Question A suggestion for an epidemiological experiment - scientists as guineapigs test the future normality

Jan 29, 2021
Visit site
Dear forum, I'd like to get your take on the following idea:

Scientists, who have overcome a Covid-infection, test the risks of our future normality in a controlled epidemiological experiment with and on themselves.

I am attaching the text of two emails below. I have shared my suggestion with the members of the health committee of the German parliament - without response - in the hope to get this particular epidemiological experiment organized.

As has been widely discussed, there are many uncertainties about the extent of the immunity that vaccination will provide in the face of a changing virus. This is a problem since most concepts about future opening-up strategies depend on this immunity, and without more knowledge every future easing of the current measures will be un uncontrolled field experiment with the whole population in it.

In a nutshell I would like to appeal to scientists who, like me, have survived Covid and are now at least partially immune. We survivors should join as a group of authors to test the new normal. We should use ourselves as guineapigs for testing the risks associated with the future normality in a controlled infection-scenario.

The rationale behind this is that
a) the risk for the individual participants is limited due to the (partial) immunity of the group members and thus acceptable, and
b) we would learn a lot about the future risks for society after vaccination, and we would learn things NOW.

There are historic examples of scientists who have taken personal risks for the gain of knowledge. It is a noble tradition of scientists to take such a calculated personal risk in an experiment that one might not want to do with members of the ordinary public.

My emails below explain in more detail what I'm trying to get at. Let me know what you think.

Kind regards

"Dear XXX
as you know, I had COVID over Christmas and New Year's eve. I'm feeling better now, and this experience has given me a different angle to look at the pandemic.
I fail to see controlled epidemiological experiments with survivors like me. I think that people who have recovered from the disease are an underutilized resource to better understand the pandemic and would be in a perfect position to test the future normal.
What do I mean?
All the plans for the future rely on the (partial)immunity that vaccination is hoped to provide. We hope that once enough people are vaccinated, we can open up restaurants, cinemas, sports events etc. and all have our lives back. But we don't know whether that'll work as hoped and in essence will be performing a huge, uncontrolled field experiment with everybody in it.
Why don't we test the new normal with COVID survivors under controlled conditions?

Why don't we take a hundred exCovids, after prior analysis of their physiological and immunological parameters, and let them party in a club (under optimal conditions for viral spread)? And then observe, whether something happens to them by a stringent post-party analysis?
Why don't we use the same concept to test the situation for sports events, cinemas, concerts, restaurants?

We'd expect that nothing much should happen to this group, which has at least partial immunity. But we don't know! And if something happens - like exCOVIDS with very low antibody levels getting reinfected - this would teach us a lot and would allow us to better prepare for the BIG opening of our societies. And adapt our plans beforehand rather than scrambling to solve the problems which we might then come across.
There are so many exCovids out there and I bet that most of them, like me, would volunteer for such experiments if they helped to open up things faster and safer. And some of them would volunteer just to get a little fun back into their lives by having a drink in a pub.
I don't know whether such experiments are actually already ongoing and I have missed to find them. But my guess is that epidemiologists are not used to actively experiment with populations and rather observe what's happening in the society at large.
I also don't how how I could implement such an experimental approach and I hope that your contacts with government might help in that regard."

"Dear XXX,

About the experiment: I absolutely agree that it is not without risk. But the whole point of the experiment is to better understand what the risk ist.

And compared to all epidemiological risks involving immunologically naive people, this risk might be acceptable. And think about it: the risk in this experiment is similar to the risk that we as a society would take if we opened up after vaccination. And contrary to what would then be an uncontrolled experiment with all of society (without much advancement of knowledge due to missing data and controls) this experiment would help us better understand the risks of our societies' future.

The way I would do this is to only select bioscientists and doctors, who have overcome a Covid infection, and then make the experiment as a big group of co-authors. This should not require approval of ethics comittees, as an author can do experiments with her or his own body. And as a group of scientists we would then advance epidemiological know-how and provide data that is important for the future planning of opening-up scenarios. In other words, the group of co-authors would take the risk of a clinical trial with itself. This is conceptually different from an experiment with Covid-survivors, where a researcher is putting the lives of ordinary people at risk.

  • Like
Reactions: adam
This suggested experiment of and by scientists who survived covid-19 is both courageous and heroic. However, any results may be obviated due to the plethora of covid-19 mutations. Possibly, the best global and national strategies would seem to be rapid results testing ability implementation and, most importantly, the administration of existing and newly developed vaccines ASAP concurrently with improving and developing care protocols/medications for active covid-19 cases. The informational responses to the covid-19 pandemic beg the questions "Who is at the greatest/most probable risk of long term morbidity and mortality from covid-19"? "Shouldn't those most at risk receive the vaccines and/or protocols on a priority basis"? "Why should politicians, legislators, wealthy folks and bureaucrats not in a most at risk category get priority for any vaccine"? N.B.: In the U.S., covid-19 mortality overall is between 1.5% -2.0% based upon reported public data. Risk categories and related underlying physical/mental conditions are defined/updated. It would seem that the paraphrased public manta should be "Full speed ahead with vaccinations/testing according to logic and damn the covid-19".
  • Like
Reactions: PseudaFed
Jan 29, 2021
Visit site
This suggested experiment of and by scientists who survived covid-19 is both courageous and heroic. However, any results may be obviated due to the plethora of covid-19 mutations. ".

Thanks for your response. And, of course, escape mutations will continue to change the overall picture. And, if they completely evade immunity, we'd have to be thinking of them, in the most extreme case, as of a new virus.

But the question remains: would the experiment which I outline generate data that is worth the limited risk (heroic's to big a word for it)?

Assume a group of 100 or even several such groups in various countries. We'd have the possibility to correlate the outcomes to all the physiological parameters which we measured before and after the experiment.
Do reinfections correlate with antibody levels (or other measured parameters like T-cell responses, vitamine D status, etc.)? Does immunity prevent severe disease only or does the virus never replicate to levels which would make "immune" Covid survivors infectious for other people?

I think that the answers to these questions should be interesting and relevant enough to guide future politics. And thus I'm of the opinion that the risk should be worth taking.
For me Heroic is not a big enough word. The risk seems undefined, and to take such for the advancement of science, and the benefit of others simply prompts the blessing "Via Con Dios".