Ethics of controlled human infection to address COVID-19

22 May 2020 Vol 368, Issue 6493


Policy Forum
Ethics of controlled human infection to address COVID-19
By Seema K. Shah, Franklin G. Miller, Thomas C. Darton, Devan Duenas, Claudia Emerson, Holly Fernandez Lynch, Euzebiusz Jamrozik, Nancy S. Jecker, Dorcas Kamuya, Melissa Kapulu, Jonathan Kimmelman, Douglas MacKay, Matthew J. Memoli, Sean C. Murphy, Ricardo Palacios, Thomas L. Richie, Meta Roestenberg, Abha Saxena, Katherine Saylor, Michael J. Selgelid, Vina Vaswani, Annette Rid
Science22 May 2020 : 832-834 Full Access
High social value is fundamental to justifying these studies
Development of an effective vaccine is the clearest path to controlling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. To accelerate vaccine development, some researchers are pursuing, and thousands of people have expressed interest in participating in, controlled human infection studies (CHIs) with severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (1, 2). In CHIs, a small number of participants are deliberately exposed to a pathogen to study infection and gather preliminary efficacy data on experimental vaccines or treatments. We have been developing a comprehensive, state-of-the-art ethical framework for CHIs that emphasizes their social value as fundamental to justifying these studies. The ethics of CHIs in general are underexplored (3, 4), and ethical examinations of SARS-CoV-2 CHIs have largely focused on whether the risks are acceptable and participants could give valid informed consent (1). The high social value of such CHIs has generally been assumed. Based on our framework, we agree on the ethical conditions for conducting SARS-CoV-2 CHIs (see the table). We differ on whether the social value of such CHIs is sufficient to justify the risks at present, given uncertainty about both in a rapidly evolving situation; yet we see none of our disagreements as insurmountable. We provide ethical guidance for research sponsors, communities, participants, and the essential independent reviewers considering SARS-CoV-2 CHIs.