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Ethical dilemmas raised in rushing a vaccine

A professor of bioethics says we cannot put people into harm's way just to get to a vaccine quicker
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As countries across the world race to develop a vaccine to COVID-19, ethical dilemmas are being raised at the some methods.

Charles Weijer, Professor of Bioethics at Western University, spoke with the Mike Farwell Show on 570 NEWS. He says traditional vaccine studies typically take years to finish. In the rush to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, human challenge studies are being considered, which Weijer objects to.

With regular studies, a group of volunteers are either given the new vaccine or a placebo, and researcher see how the groups compare if they come into contact with the virus.

With human challenge studies, the same applies, except volunteers are then deliberately exposed to the virus. It has been used in the development of vaccines against malaria and cholera.

"But those cases were ethically permissible because there's curative treatment for malaria, and there's curative treatment for cholera," he said. "What's different about the novel coronavirus is that in some cases it isn't self-limiting. Disease can be very serious, and some people will, unfortunately, die."

With consideration to the placebo group, they don't even have the potential benefit of the test vaccine.

There is an argument to be made that volunteers know the risks involved, and that it can be likened to the risk of death when donating a kidney. Weijer rejects this line of thinking.

"I think, perhaps, in research ethics, we want to resist those kinds of arguments. That we want to say that 'look, the welfare of people who volunteer in research is something that we need to protect no matter what.' That scientists and physicians in research have a responsibility, first and foremost, to research participants."

He says another argument in opposition of human challenge studies are how well current vaccine studies are doing without having to expose research volunteers.

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