WASHINGTON - Thousands of people are signing up to be infected by COVID-19 all in the name of science and research, and dozens of those volunteers are from the D.C. region.
In March, NY based non-profit, 1DaySooner, started this effort to gather volunteers for a potential human challenge study. The ultimate goal is to speed up the development of a vaccine.So far, more than 24,000 have signed up from over 100 countries.
28-years-old Kat Kelly lives in D.C. with her boyfriend. She just recently got her masters degree from Johns Hopkins University in Public Health, and is now one of the volunteers ready to be infected with coronavirus.
"There’s no question that it would be scary when you’re taking on that kind of risk and uncertainty," said Kelley.
Through the website 1DaySooner.org -- you can sign up to be a volunteer -- in this Human Challenge Study—that still requires approval by the FDA. It can be a controversial method, and it doesn’t come without its risks.
"Because I am relatively young and healthy, and I only live with one other person who is also young and healthy I feel like this is a risk I can afford to take," said Kelley.
"Most of our volunteers are younger, roughly 20-35, and they’re educated," said Josh Morrison, one of the founders of the non-profit 1DaySooner, who helped launch this effort.
"I saw that here’s something I can do to make a small difference, that I can be active and be empowered and be a part of the fight, and that was powerful for me," said Morrison.
Human Challenge Trials have helped in developing vaccines for other diseases such as Malaria and the flu.
Essentially about 100 volunteers are directly infected with the virus – either by syringe or a nose drop -- then half of the group would get an experimental vaccine the other half a placebo.
Johns Hopkins University Professor Anna Durbin- who has conducted a number of Challenge trials from Dengue to zika -- says we’re dealing with an unpredictable pathogen and the risks are too high.
"There’s a lot that goes into it, and with COVID-19 so much we don’t know....younger people ages 18-25 are less likely to get severe disease, that is true, but that doesn’t mean they wont," said Durbin.
Yet—with each day that passes—and no vaccine for Covid19—thousands of people continue to die in the U.S. and young people like Kat Kelley want to be a part of the solution.
"I really hope I can do my part to get America back on track," said Kelley.
A human challenge trial has to be approved by the FDA. Morrison says the nonprofit is pushing congress for funding. And all these volunteers will need to go through extensive medical and psychological screenings before they can actually participate. But Morrison says having a pool of volunteers ready to go once a trial is approved is the goal.
"Our goal is to say if one of these challenge trials go forward, then here are 500 people in the DC, Maryland area who fit the criteria and we can pass that on to those conducting the trial," he said.