The Ethics of Human Challenge Trials: COVID-19 and Beyond.


It’s been more than a year since the advent of COVID-19. We now have several different vaccines to choose from, all of them effective, produced by a variety of different countries and firms. In all likelihood, and assuming that vaccination continues apace, the pandemic is mostly behind us. But could we have done better?

Rather than asking such a wide-open question, this month we’re focusing on just one way that the process of vaccine development and testing might have been sped up: the use of human challenge trials, in which healthy volunteers, giving informed consent beforehand, are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus under controlled conditions so as to test vaccine candidates for efficacy, and for other purposes that could shorten the pandemic and save lives. Here to discuss with us this month are a trio of prominent bioethicists: Jessica Flanigan of the University of Richmond, writing the lead essay; Ben Bramble of the Australian National University; and Charles Weijer of Western University. After all have written, a free-form discussion will follow. The comments are open, and we invite readers to join us as well.

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