A DIY coronavirus vaccine has biohackers questioning their entire approach

Josiah Zayner is a scientist, biohacker, and artist, perhaps most well known for trying to gene-edit himself with CRISPR on stage and broadcasting his own live fecal transplant.

True to his roots as a rogue advocate for open science access, he's naturally turned his attention to COVID-19. According to Bloomberg, his homebrewed vaccine appears to be successful — but the experience of it has him questioning the value of this DIY approach in the context of a global pandemic that affects more than just individual choices:

Even though his experiment yielded a promising result, Zayner found too many unanswered questions to say that it worked. For one, it wasn't clear whether antibodies he found in his own body in extremely tiny measures before the experiment began made a difference. Zayner has long-believed that biohackers such as himself have the potential to make science move faster. In June, he told Bloomberg News that Covid-19 presented "the perfect opportunity" to show just what biohackers can do. 

Now, his message is decidedly different: "Human beings — their biology is so complex," he said in a recent interview. "The results are going to be messy. The experiments are going to be messy. So you test 30,000 people so that the messiness kind of averages out."

There's more interesting quotes in the article, too, that get at the overall difficulty of large-scale health initiatives. An individualistic, libertarian approach might work for some medicines, but as Zayner discovered first hand, there is a value in large scale clinical tests, even if they take a while.

Home-Made Covid Vaccine Appeared to Work, but Questions Remained [Kristen V Brown / Bloomberg]

Image: Matt Biddulph / Flickr (CC 2.0)