Researcher Illegally Injected People with 'a Herpes Vaccine' in Hotel Rooms to 'Test It'

Researcher Illegally Injected People with 'a Herpes Vaccine' in Hotel Rooms to 'Test It'

A US researcher aiming to develop a herpes vaccine conducted illegal trials during which he injected people in hotel rooms and at a house on the island of St. Kitts, according to a new investigation.

William Halford, a former associate professor at Southern Illinois University (SIU), began his first "trial" in 2013. But the setting wasn't a university laboratory or a room at a hospital – it was a Holiday Inn Express and a Crowne Plaza Hotel located 15 minutes away from the college, according to an investigation by Kaiser Health News.

Halford, who died of cancer in June, administered his experimental shots to at least eight herpes patients on four different occasions in the summer and fall of 2013. The volunteers were injected with a virus he had created, according to emails from seven participants and interviews with one participant.

In multiple email exchanges between Halford and the participants, seen by Kaiser, he asked them to send photographs of rashes, blisters and other reactions they might have received as a result of the injections.

Halford, who was a microbiologist rather than a physician, apparently knew that his makeshift trial was a violation of US law, as he stated the need for secrecy in one of his emails. He said it would be "suicide" if it became too public about how he was conducting his research.

He described his methods in some of his emails, as well as the number of injections given.

“Just wanted to pass along that I immunized someone with the higher dose of the HSV-2 vaccine on Monday, and I attach the photos of the injection site at 48 hours to give you and everyone else an idea of what to expect…,” he wrote in September 2013. “This individual requested that I give him two immunizations to double the effect...one immunization per leg.”

Four days later, Halford wrote that "everyone's vaccines contained ~150 million infectious units of the HSV-2 vaccine strain," noting that the first injection of the group represented about a 30- to 40-fold increase over what others received in August 2013. In the same email, the microbiologist wrote that he believed the trials were important.

“Saturday Sept. 21 definitely represents a milestone in my career,” he wrote. “Don’t know how it will turn out, but I undoubtedly feel like this was a real test of the (a) safety / tolerability of the HSV-2 vaccine and (b) an opportunity to see if it has any therapeutic potential...I am indebted to all of you."

In an email dated October 2, 2013, Halford told a participant that his hypothesis of the injection's outcome was "nothing more than an education guess." He added that "the proof is in the pudding...let's see if your problems with outbreaks dial back or not."

In addition to the trial being blatantly illegal, the microbiologist also did not obtain written informed consent from the participants, which is required by US law when testing a live virus on humans. Moreover, medical researchers are not allowed to inject people without a physician or nurse practitioner being present, Jonathan Zenilman, a doctor and expert on sexually transmitted diseases at Johns Hopkins University, told Kaiser.

Meanwhile, a man from Texas who said he received the injections said he fears the vaccine may have given him genital herpes (HSV-2), when he previously only had HSV-1, which usually emerges as sores on the face.

The Texan wrote in an email on February 24, 2014, that he was frightened after his second shot. "I got a large rash on my leg and it burned and swelled," he wrote. "Then a blister popped up."

 

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