Saint Louis University’s Center for Vaccine Development’s Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit (funded by the National Institutes of Health) is planning a human approach to studying influenza and vaccine effectiveness, according to an announcement earlier this week.
The university wants volunteers to live in “hotel influenza,” where they’d be either given a vaccine or a placebo, be exposed to the flu, and be quarantined for 10 days in the Extended Stay Research Unit. Compensation for such an experiment is around $3,500 (for time and travel), according to a SLU release.
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It’s known as a human challenge study, and according to Dr. Daniel Hoft, the director of the Center for Vaccine Development at SLU, it is a quicker way to get a lot of information with fewer volunteers.
“In a traditional flu study, we vaccinate people and see if their immune systems respond by creating antibodies that fight flu,” Dr. Hoff said in a release. “In a human challenge study, we vaccinate people, then deliberately challenge their bodies by exposing them to flu to see if they get sick.”
The study comes after the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst to hit the nation. On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there were 172 pediatric flu-related deaths this season (and more could be reported), the most since the 2012-2013 season when 171 children died. And while flu vaccines are available and recommended, some shots are less effective than others depending on the strain of flu.
The 24 volunteers living in the “hotel influenza” would have private rooms and bathrooms, common areas with with chairs and TVs, along with exercise equipment, and catered meals in a dining room. They will be observed, “have blood and lung tests and nose swabs to see if they are infected with flu and shedding the virus.” If they come down with the flu, they won’t be able to leave until they’ve tested negative for the virus for two days. Nurses would be available around the clock.
“You know when they’re exposed to the flu, so can plan exactly when to study it,” Dr. Hoff said in the release. “You are not waiting for nature to take its course.” A small group of “hotel” guests will be protected by the vaccine, which is in development.