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How do we develop a COVID-19 vaccine ethically? | The Stream

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The race for a coronavirus vaccine is on. Scientists and drug makers all over the world are working around the clock to develop one of the most anticipated treatments in human history.

But exactly what does it take to develop a vaccine? In this case, intentionally infecting people with COVID-19.

Researchers inject healthy volunteers with an experimental vaccine and then expose them to the virus. If the vaccine prevents the volunteers from falling ill, the study can then accelerate development. This approach has in the past been successfully used to malaria and cholera vaccines.

In recent months, though, serious concerns have been raised around the ethics of such procedures. An announcement that Oxford University would, in partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand, carry out testing in South Africa prompted street protests from demonstrators who said they did not want to see Africans used as "guinea pigs". Elsewhere, the Indian Council of Medical Research’s timeline for vaccine development has drawn criticism from experts who said the trials would compromise patient safety.

Supporters of these efforts, though, say that involving poorer countries in vaccine trials is intended to ensure they will have access to an affordable vaccine.

So, how do we reconcile the urgent need for a vaccine with demands that the breakthrough be achieved ethically? In this episode of The Stream, we will put that question to a panel of experts.

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