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The author in the hospital after donating his kidney.
The author in the hospital after donating his kidney.
courtesy James Warren

Op-Ed: I'm Willing to Take a Risk to Help Protect My Community

I’m ready to be exposed to COVID-19.

In November 2018, I donated my kidney to a stranger. Since then, I’ve met my kidney recipient — she is a wonderful woman from Arvada, the mother of five children and one hell of a worker. Meeting her has reinforced my belief that donating my kidney was worth it.

I had gone through with the donation to help my community here in Colorado. Now, with COVID-19 killing hundreds of thousands and completely halting the economy, I’m ready to take some personal risks to help my community once again.

Recently, I learned about human-challenge trials, in which volunteers are given a potential vaccine and then exposed to the coronavirus. Because exposure to the virus is guaranteed, human-challenge trials test vaccines more quickly and require fewer participants. This is in contrast to conventional Phase III trials (like the ones currently ongoing for the COVID-19 vaccines), in which volunteers receive a vaccine before going about their business and then measuring infection rates weeks or months down the line. After learning about HCTs from an advocacy organization called 1Day Sooner, I put my name down to volunteer if challenge trials are approved.

Since then, I’ve received a number of worried comments from friends and family concerned about the risks of doing so. I think those concerns are legitimate, but I am willing to make the trade-off. Since I’m 26, the risks for someone in my age group are similar to the risks I bore with my kidney donation. I’ve weighed those risks for COVID-19 and have decided it is worth it.

So I’m ready to be exposed to COVID-19. I am ready to do what it takes to protect my community. From video calls to masks at King Soopers to bringing public education to the living room, pandemic life is the new normal, but I’m ready to see Colorado back to business as usual.

I’m not alone, either; over 35,000 people have signed up to potentially participate in a human-challenge trial. After all, when we say “We’re all in this together,” what does that really mean? I am ready to take on a measure of risk to protect my community, and I hope the people who make Colorado such a special place to live are willing to do so as well.

If you’re in a low-risk demographic, ask yourself if you’re willing to take that risk for strangers and loved ones alike.

James Warren is a Colorado resident currently pursuing a master's at the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs.

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