COVID-19 Vaccines and the Ethics Surrounding Them

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SEATTLE, Washington — The world has now been in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic for almost a year now, and medical experts are on the hunt for a cure. Luckily, this search is not solely on the shoulders of developed countries and mega-corporations. Universities and foreign governments are doing everything in their power to search for COVID-19 vaccines. In fact, live trials are already underway in some countries

African Vaccines

Especially in continents like Africa, officials are adamant about making sure their people are not left behind in vaccine trials. Oxford University developed one such trial currently happening simultaneously in Britain, Brazil and South Africa. South Africa in particular has more than 100,000 cases, making up for about a third of the entire continent’s concentration of COVID-19.

Cameroon, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya are also capable of dealing with the virus. However, the chief of the African Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) worries about African countries if trials don’t work out. He has gone on record saying, “Unless we act now, Africa is at risk of being left behind on the global vaccine.”

Process of Vaccine Creation

The time it takes to make and distribute potential COVID-19 vaccines is not as unpredictable as some may think. In fact, most developed countries follow incredibly similar patterns for releasing vaccines.

  1. Research: Investigate potential cures.
  1. Preclinical Preparation: Gather materials for clinical trials.
  1. Clinical TrialsTest the cure in a controlled environment.
  1. Approval: Approve the vaccine according to its country’s health guidelines.
  1. Manufacturing: Make the vaccine in mass quantities.
  1. Distribution: Disperse the vaccine among the population. 

Normally, these trials would take anywhere from 8-15 years. However, trials for COVID-19 vaccines might take as little as a year and a half. Stages can, and often do, overlap with each other. Moreover, sometimes they will cut out certain stages entirely. While no government has approved a new drug yet, many companies are in the phase of comparing experimental and placebo groups. Aside from Oxford University, Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech (two Chinese companies) are beginning mass trials with thousands of participants.

Vaccine Ethics

Placeboes are an important part of experiments, especially those for COVID-19 vaccines. For context, a placebo something designed not to have any effect on the subject but the subject believes it is the real drug. This is meant to provide a control group researchers can compare to those actually taking the drug. 

Naturally, this involves lying to some participants of vaccine trials about their treatment, which has raised an ethical dilemma among professionals in the medical field. In the United States, placebo experiments must still end in every participant receiving some form of treatment. However, in some developing countries, this is not a requirement.

In South Africa, protesters have been quick to call out the use of placebo trials, especially given the country’s history of deceptive medical practices. During apartheid, the country handed out contraceptives to Black people that also made them infertile, so it is fair for them to be skeptical. Harriet Washington, a medical ethicist, has spoken on placebos and saysResearch by definition does not guarantee safety or efficacy. It may work. It may not...You can’t present it as an unalloyed benefit.

In short, there are plenty of potential COVID-19 vaccines on the way. However, people in developing countries may be at the mercy of immoral practices. In the meantime, any effort to raise awareness for COVID-19 in developing countries or sending any donations is their best bet to receive further help.

– Bryce Thompson
Photo: Flickr

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