kahmed1_Vincent Kalut  Photonews via Getty Images_coronavirusvaccine Vincent Kalut/Photonews via Getty Images

William A. Haseltine
Says More…

This week in Say More, PS talks with William A. Haseltine, Chair and President of the global health think tank ACCESS Health International.

Project Syndicate: Last year, you wrote that, “Deliberately infecting healthy human volunteers with the SARS-CoV-2 virus in order to test the efficacy of potential COVID-19 vaccines is unnecessary, uninformative, and unethical,” warning that doing so could end up “destroying trust in the integrity of science and medicine for generations to come.” More recently, reports of rare blood-clotting disorders linked to the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have similarly been undermining public trust. Do such developments fuel support for human challenge studies?

William A. Haseltine: No. The blood clots are so rare that they wouldn’t even appear in a human challenge study, which by design would test the vaccines on a very small group of people – usually no more than 20 to 100 – who are entirely healthy. Obtaining appreciable numbers of people with adverse side effects would require testing several million.

In other words, there simply isn't sufficient justification for human challenge studies. Why scientists and doctors would pursue them, much less grant them ethical permission, is a mystery.

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Haseltine recommends

We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Haseltine's picks:

  • The Plague

    The Plague

    This and Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People describe the interaction between plagues and society, dramatizing the conflict between the human desire to maintain the status quo and the plague’s indifference to those wishes.

  • Plagues and Peoples

    Plagues and Peoples

    A respected historian offers a deep examination of the nexus of society, tradition, culture, and disease.

  • Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic

    Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a Time of Pandemic

    This and The Premonition: A Pandemic Story, by Michael Lewis, are two recent books that describe the pandemic from the perspective of doctors and public-health workers. With real human drama, they illustrate the challenges those on the frontlines have faced in both treating COVID-19 and preventing infection. Both works depict the physical, emotional, and mental toll of combating infectious disease.

From the PS Archive

In “What AIDS Taught Us About Fighting Pandemics,” Haseltine applies lessons from the front line of past disease outbreaks to the current crisis – and those to come. Read more.

In “Herd Immunity Will Not Defeat COVID-19,” Haseltine refutes the belief that letting a large share of the population get infected with the coronavirus would end the pandemic. Read more.

Around the web

In a series of articles for Forbes, Haseltine describes a search for monoclonal antibodies that may successfully address the problem of antigenic variation in COVID-19. Read part one, two, three, and four.

Haseltine and other medical experts weigh in on what to expect from the pandemic this summer, including whether it will be safe to travel. Read the article.