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Description: You cannot have missed media coverage of the current efforts underway to develop and produce a vaccine that will help people develop immunity to Covid-19. You may not have thought about the research ethics issues and questions that this multi-faceted development dash might involve. If you have had a Psychology course you know about informed consent and perhaps about how potential risks to research participants must be presented as part of the consent process and managed as the research proceeds. Medical research ethics specifically require that trials of potential new vaccines undergo safety trials and effectiveness trials. Think about issues of informed consent and risk presentation and management might arise in the rush to develop effective Covid-19 vaccines and then read through the article linked below for a thorough discussion. The ethics associated with the issue of informed consent are introduced and discussed around the middle of the article.

Source: Profits and Pride at Stake, the Race for a Vaccine Intensifies, David E. Sanger, David D. Kirkpatrick, Carl Zimmer, Katie Thomas, and Sui-Lee Wee, The New York Times.

Date: May 2, 2020

Photo Credit:  Image by Ri Butov from Pixabay 

Article Link:

So, vaccine research is a much tougher ethical game than plain old psychological research. If a vaccine development protocol is proposed that would involve testing a vaccine by giving it to people and exposing them to Covid-19 (as some protocols do) is “fully informed consent” even possible? As well, while risks can be mitigated somewhat by being thoughtful about who (from which population groups would even be allowed to volunteer most ethical review situations do not involve considerations of the “greater good” as in while the research volunteers will be at some risk of contracting the virus and potentially of dying from it the results of the research could lead to the large scale production and distribution of a vaccine that could reduce or eliminate risk for, potentially, millions of others. Now THERE is an ethical dilemma!

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What are some of the ethical considerations involved in proposing to test a Covid-19 vaccine with human research participants?
  2. What are some of the moral philosophical considerations of proposing to test a Covid-19 vaccine with human research participants (such as weighing out risks to a few and potential benefits to many)?
  3. What are some ethical considerations for the rest of us who are practicing isolation and social distancing but are not involved in vaccine research trials and how do those considerations potential tie into the ethics of vaccine development?

References (Read Further):

Bambery, B., Selgelid, M., Weijer, C., Savulescu, J., & Pollard, A. J. (2016). Ethical criteria for human challenge studies in infectious diseases. Public Health Ethics, 9(1), 92-103. Link

Yan, W. (2015). Challenge accepted: Human challenge trials for dengue. Link

Darton, T. C., Blohmke, C. J., Moorthy, V. S., Altmann, D. M., Hayden, F. G., Clutterbuck, E. A., … & Pollard, A. J. (2015). Design, recruitment, and microbiological considerations in human challenge studies. The Lancet infectious diseases, 15(7), 840-851. Link

Eyal, N., Lipsitch, M., & Smith, P. G. (2020). Human challenge studies to accelerate coronavirus vaccine licensure. The Journal of Infectious Diseases. Link

Selgelid, M. J., & Jamrozik, E. (2018). Ethical challenges posed by human infection challenge studies in endemic settings. Indian journal of medical ethics, 3(4), 263. Link

Eyal, N., & Lipsitch, M. (2020). Ethical Comparators in Coronavirus Vaccine Trials. Link


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