Medical doctor or nurse giving coronavirus vaccine shot to African American male patient at clinic. Young black man in face mask getting covid-19 vaccine, participating in immunization campaign

Ethics & Human Research

Human Infection Challenge Experiments: Then and Now

ABSTRACT In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, ethicists, researchers, and journalists have recommended studies that deliberately infect healthy volunteers with the coronavirus as a scientific means of expediting vaccine development. In this essay, we trace the history of infection challenge experiments and reflect on the Nuremberg Code of 1947, issued in response to brutal human experiments conducted by Nazi investigators in concentration camps. We argue that the Code continues to offer valuable guidance for assessing the ethics of this controversial form of research, with respect particularly to the acceptable limits to research risks and the social value of research necessary to justify exposing human participants to these risks.

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