Skip to main content


Search News


CPLB Dilemma #2: the ethics of further COVID vaccine tests

February 22 2021

The second edition of CPLB Dilemmas is now online. This edition discusses the ethics of continuing to test both existing and new COVID vaccines, now that some vaccines are being distributed in many countries. Further COVID vaccine tests may require either depriving placebo arm participants from an authorized vaccine that they could otherwise receive, or holding the trial in poorer countries where the population lacks access to these vaccines outside of trials, which may be thought exploitative of a global injustice.

Dave Wendler of the NIH and Rieke van der Graaf of University Medical Center Utrecht (Netherlands) give an overview of how to think about risks and benefits of research, and under what conditions it is acceptable to deny some participants the standard of care (or, as in this case, of prevention). Brian Berkey of Wharton business School, CPLB’s Monica Magalhaes and Daniel Wang of Fundação Getúlio Vargas (Brazil) discuss the conditions under which COVID vaccine trials in countries with insufficient vaccine access might be ethical, and why. Bowdoin College’s philosopher Sarah Conly, herself a former COVID vaccine trial participant, closes the debate with a view of the decision process behind volunteering for such a trial.

Dilemmas is a section of the CPLB website devoted to conversations on pressing normative questions of health policy and population health. Dilemmas will bring together contributions from a diversity of disciplinary perspectives, including those of population-level bioethics, medicine, epidemiology, economics, health policy, philosophy, law, and others. Rather than attempting to converge on a consensus, the goal is to think together about a hard question relating to ethics and health.