When something sounds too good to be true, it often is. Getting paid $3,500 to stay at a hotel sounds like a great gig, but then when you find out it’s referred to as the “Hotel Influenza,” you might rethink the whole thing. It suddenly doesn’t sound like quite the vacation getaway you initially imagined, does it? It’s all in the name of science, however.
The University of St. Louis’ vaccine research department is looking for participants to be vaccinated and then exposed to viruses and stay in their “Hotel Influenza,” where they will take part in a “human challenge” study.
For your time — and the exposure — volunteers will be paid $3,500 and undoubtedly earn bragging rights for providing data needed in the development of a universal vaccine.
Guests could be exposed to the H3N2 variation of flu that killed many children and young adults this past flu season, which was the worst in nearly a decade. The flu shot this year was found to be only about 30 percent effective.
For those who wish to participate in the study, they will stay 10 days in their “hotel,” but they do have a few nice amenities: recliners in front of a flat screen TV, internet access, common areas, and private bathrooms. There’s also an around-the-clock nursing staff, which is critical.
Part of the University’s goal, according to the Daily News, is to develop a universal vaccine that “targets many strains or the portions of the virus that do not mutate from year to year.” The report added that the process is “tricky” however, noting: “making a formula that sets off such a strong and broad response from the immune system without making you sick in the process is tricky.”
While some universal vaccine animal studies have shown promise, very little research has involved human subjects.
Dr. Daniel Hoft, director of St Louis University’s (SLU) Center for Vaccine Development, explained the important work they’re doing, noting: “Human challenge studies are a way to get a lot of information quicker, with a smaller number of volunteers and less cost than a traditional vaccine study.” He added: “we vaccinate people, then deliberately challenge their bodies by exposing them to flu to see if they get sick.”
According to the SLU press release, volunteers will receive $3,500 “for their time and travel.” Some participants will receive the real experimental vaccine, while others will receive a placebo.
Dr. Hoft added the value of this type of arrangement, saying: “You know when they’re exposed to the flu, so can plan exactly when to study it. You are not waiting for nature to take its course.” He continued, explaining: “If a challenge trial shows the vaccine protected a small group of volunteers against flu, you can be much more confident the vaccine is more likely to be worth the hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to go through phase three development.”
“We can give people a vaccine and challenge them with more than one virus, maybe at different times, to quickly access the actual breadth of protection against different strains of flu,” Dr. Hoft noted, adding, “This is important because no one vaccine currently protects against all strains of influenza, which changes year to year.”