Skip to main content
Move the World.
DIY Coronavirus Vaccine

Lead Image © Picsfive / Adobe Stocke

In response to the pandemic, regulators and biotech companies are finding ways to dramatically accelerate the vaccine development process — instead of taking the usual 10 to 15 years, they expect they might have a coronavirus vaccine in less than one.

Still, one group of scientists wants protection against COVID-19 now.

So, rather than going through the standard development process — and waiting for approvals from regulators and conducting ever-larger trials — they developed a DIY coronavirus vaccine to test on themselves.

The DIY Coronavirus Vaccine

The group — the Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (RaDVaC) — launched in March when biologist Preston Estep asked some of his acquaintances if they'd be interested in working together on a DIY coronavirus vaccine, MIT Technology Review reported.

After pouring over existing research on vaccines for the coronaviruses SARS and MERS, the group came up with a nasal vaccine candidate made from just five ingredients, all of which can be delivered via mail.

RaDVaC has since sent the ingredients to more than 70 people, who then mix and self-administer the vaccine. Others interested in taking the DIY coronavirus vaccine can access the group's white paper to find out what they need to make it.

Estep told Technology Review he wasn't sure how many people have actually taken the vaccine, but the number is above 20, and well-known Harvard geneticist George Church is among the guinea pigs.

The Potential Risks

Because RaDVaC distributes only the unmixed ingredients for the vaccine and isn't trying to make money off of it, Estep believes the project doesn't fall under the FDA's jurisdiction.

"If you are just making it and taking it yourself, the FDA can't stop you," he said.

But while Estep believes that what RaDVaC is doing is fully legal, the FDA has yet to comment.

"We are offering one more tool to reduce the chance of infection."

Preston Estep

The safety of the DIY coronavirus vaccine is also unconfirmed, but the RaDVaC scientists don't appear concerned.

"I think we are at much bigger risk from COVID considering how many ways you can get it, and how highly variable the consequences are," Church told Technology Review.

But in the past, some vaccine candidates have been known to make the diseases they're supposed to protect against worse, a side effect known as "enhancement."

Enhancement can be caught during animal testing — as it was during the development of an experimental SARS vaccine in 2004 — but the RaDVaC team skipped right over that testing phase.

Will It Work?

Even if enhancement isn't a side effect of the DIY coronavirus vaccine, some scientists say they have little hope that it will be able to offer any protection against COVID-19.

As vaccine expert George Siber told Technology Review, the ingredient expected to prompt the creation of coronavirus antibodies — short protein fragments called "peptides" — typically doesn't trigger much of an immune response at all.

Additionally, he said he'd never heard of anyone successfully administering the same type of vaccine that the RaDVaC team created via a nasal spray.

Another DIY coronavirus vaccine initiative, Project McAfee, might have a better shot at offering protection.

For that one, famed biohacker Josiah Zanyer and two collaborators are recreating a vaccine that's already been proven effective in macaque monkey experiments — and then injecting it into themselves.

Still, even in the absence of any evidence that it provides protection against COVID-19, Estep thinks RaDVaC's DIY coronavirus vaccine is worth taking.

"We are offering one more tool to reduce the chance of infection," he said. "We don't suggest people change their behavior if they are wearing masks, but it does provide potentially multiple layers of protection."

We'd love to hear from you! If you have a comment about this article or if you have a tip for a future Freethink story, please email us at [email protected].

Up Next

If you want to understand a problem, talk to the people working on solutions. Join us as we meet the people and explore the ideas on the frontlines of an unprecedented global response.

Public Health
How to Make 100 Million Doses of Coronavirus Vaccine in a Year
coronavirus vaccine
Public Health
How to Make 100 Million Doses of Coronavirus Vaccine in a Year
Creating a new vaccine is slow and expensive. One biotech firm thinks a “plug-and-play” vaccine could change that.

Creating a new vaccine is slow and expensive. One biotech firm thinks a “plug-and-play” vaccine could change that.

Coronavirus
Can Old Vaccines Be New Weapons Against COVID-19?
repurposed vaccine
Coronavirus
Can Old Vaccines Be New Weapons Against COVID-19?
Well-established vaccines using weakened pathogens provide general immune benefits. Now researchers are proposing them to help fight COVID-19.

Well-established vaccines using weakened pathogens provide general immune benefits. Now researchers are proposing them to help fight COVID-19.

Public Health
Wearables Can Detect Coronavirus Symptoms Early
Wearables that Detect Coronavirus Symptoms
Public Health
Wearables Can Detect Coronavirus Symptoms Early
A study involving more than 600 people found that the Oura Ring wearables can detect coronavirus symptoms 72 hours prior to onset with 90% accuracy.

A study involving more than 600 people found that the Oura Ring wearables can detect coronavirus symptoms 72 hours prior to onset with 90% accuracy.

Future of Medicine
Will These Lab-Made Viruses Prevent a Pandemic?
gain of function mutation
Future of Medicine
Will These Lab-Made Viruses Prevent a Pandemic?
Previously blacklisted gain-of-function mutation experiments are back, and they’re being used to fight the next major pandemic.

Previously blacklisted gain-of-function mutation experiments are back, and they’re being used to fight the next major pandemic.

Public Health
The First Life-Saving Coronavirus Drug Is a Common Steroid
coronavirus drug breakthrough
Public Health
The First Life-Saving Coronavirus Drug Is a Common Steroid
A large clinical trial in the U.K. identified the cheap, widely available steroid dexamethasone as potentially the first life-saving coronavirus drug.

A large clinical trial in the U.K. identified the cheap, widely available steroid dexamethasone as potentially the first life-saving coronavirus drug.

Sonification
Why Scientists Are Turning the Coronavirus’ Structure Into Music
Coronavirus Structure
Sonification
Why Scientists Are Turning the Coronavirus’ Structure Into Music
MIT scientists have translated a key part of the coronavirus’ structure into music — and the song could help researchers find a way to stop the virus.

MIT scientists have translated a key part of the coronavirus’ structure into music — and the song could help researchers find a way to stop the virus.

Public Health
Converting Shipping Containers Into ICUs for Coronavirus Patients
ICUs for Coronavirus Patients
Public Health
Converting Shipping Containers Into ICUs for Coronavirus Patients
The CURA project aims to address the shortage of room in ICUs for coronavirus patients by creating new units out of shipping containers.

The CURA project aims to address the shortage of room in ICUs for coronavirus patients by creating new units out of shipping containers.

Public Health
Doctors: Home-Based Care for Coronavirus Could Save Lives
home-based care for coronavirus
Public Health
Doctors: Home-Based Care for Coronavirus Could Save Lives
A group of doctors in Italy is making the case for more home-based care for coronavirus patients as a way of coping with the overwhelming COVID-19 outbreak.

A group of doctors in Italy is making the case for more home-based care for coronavirus patients as a way of coping with the overwhelming COVID-19 outbreak.