Marcus is on a mission to advance science and vaccine equity

2 August 2021

Nearly 200 million people have been infected with COVID-19 worldwide, yet few would describe their circumstances as being "in the right place at the right time". However, that is exactly how Marcus Dahl (BSc, LLB (Hons), GDLP '18) sees his situation - and he's determined to use his diagnosis to make a difference.

A Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University and alumnus of The Australian National University (ANU) College of Law, Marcus tested positive to the virus in November 2020 shortly after arriving in the United Kingdom amid an outbreak in his student accommodation.

It was hardly the ideal start to his Bachelor of Civil Law studies, yet Marcus discovered a way to use his experience to aid medical science when Oxford researchers launched their world-first human challenge trial in April 2021.

The project involves re-infecting healthy people aged 18-30 who previously naturally contracted COVID-19 to study their immune response.

"I put study on the backburner for a couple of weeks to look after myself (when first infected), but bounced back well. What I didn't expect was that this experience would put me in the position to help with research," said Marcus, a former Tuckwell Scholar and the first ANU Law student to graduate with the University Medal, Blackburn Medal for Research in Law and the Tillyard Prize.

"Being stranded in the UK given the border situation at home (in Australia), and living in Oxford where this research is happening, I am in the right place at the right time. I can put the antibodies to something that helps others."

Confined to an Oxford hospital quarantine unit since 16 July 2021, Marcus will undergo a series of daily tests over the next three weeks.

He immediately committed his remuneration as a trial participant of £2,000 (A$3,750) to VaccinAid, a global campaign by UNICEF that aims to deliver vaccines to those most vulnerable. Not content to settle at that amount, he started his own fundraising campaign to bolster his contribution. After hitting his initial £6,000 target, he decided to up the ante to £20,000 - enough to deliver more than 16,660 vaccines.

"Nobody wants to get COVID-19, but I'm participating in the human challenge trial because I believe health is a human right which we all must strive to achieve worldwide," he said.

"This fundraiser is a small drop in a very big ocean. The equity gaps in this pandemic are terrible chasms, reflecting global inequality that permeates deeply."

Since graduating from ANU, Marcus has pursued a distinctly international path in law. In 2019, he undertook a seven-month placement as a foreign clerk at the Constitutional Court of South Africa in Johannesburg. This was followed by a one-year associateship at the Federal Court of Australia in Melbourne, before he joined two other ANU alumni in receiving Rhodes Scholarships to study at Oxford University.

Despite challenges posed by the pandemic to his studies, Marcus has enjoyed exploring his passions for human rights, environmental, constitutional and criminal law.

"Although I haven't been able to visit Australia and about half of the year has been spent in lockdowns, and almost all of it online, I've still been lucky to make some amazing friends and visit some beautiful places around the UK," he said.