The Race To Find A Coronavirus Vaccine Is Raising Heaps Of Ethical Questions

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That was Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing an agreement to lock in Australia’s supply of a coronavirus vaccine if it’s successful in trials.  

The race to produce a vaccine against Covid-19 has been on for months and now a bunch of countries are placing their bets on vaccines to win.  

What do we need to know about the frontrunners, and what are the biggest problems that are unfolding with a race this intense?   

The vaccine that Scott Morrison is backing is being produced by the UK based pharmaceutical giant Astrazeneca and researchers at Oxford University.  

This is its name that I will not try pronouncing  

The vaccine had some really promising results in its phase 2 trials where it was tested on about 1000 people.  

Now it’s onto phase 3 where it’s going to be tested on about 30,000 volunteers.  

But the Astrazeneca vaccine isn’t the only one that’s looking promising.  

Paul Griffin (University of Queensland)There are a lot of really good candidates out there and we just need to wait to see the data, particularly from the phase 3 trials, where we’ll see that they provide real world protection. 

That’s Associate Professor Paul Griffin, he’s an infectious diseases researcher from the University of Queensland.  

Griffin told me that even if Astrazeneca’s trials don’t work out, there are going to be backup plans and it’s pretty likely that we’re going to see the government make the same sort of agreement with an Australian vaccine.  

5 million has already been invested in a vaccine from the University of Queensland, which started human trials in July.  

Globally, China, Russia, the US and the UK have all picked their winners as well. 

Russia even declared that they have the first successful coronavirus vaccine, but it’s been met with a lot of skepticism – probably for good reason seeing as it hasn’t been through any large scale trials.  

PG: “I’ve not seen any data to say that it’s not credible, but we also haven’t seen any data to support the claims that have been made.” 

With all of these nations gunning to have the first vaccine, problems have been developing.  

Griffin said he’s worried that making big claims without the evidence to back them up (like Russia’s) could undermine public trust in the process, especially because all of the testing processes have been so sped up.  

He wants to make it clear that the only reason these vaccines can be produced so quickly is because researchers are being given the resources they’ve never had access to before.   

The sheer competition to make a successful candidate has also created a situation that’s been dubbed vaccine nationalism.  

The worry is that whichever country ends up finding that vaccine, is going to prioritise money and national interest over getting it to the populations that need it the most.  

Even though leaders like China’s President Xi Jinping have assured that their vaccine will be a “global public good” there’s still concern about how these vaccines could be rolled out. 

PG: I think there’s a number of countries that are very likely to put forward that they get the majority or the first access to that candidate. I don’t think that’s going to be confined to china  and that’s where I think we just need to rely on the groups that have overarching control of a lot of things. 

Griffin said overall he’s hopeful that the scientific community will prioritise fair distribution when the winner makes itself known.  

But there also may not be just one winner, which would potentially dilute the sense of nationalism.  

The Takeaway 

The race to make the Covid-19 vaccine is the most targeted and collaborative scientific effort that the world has ever seen and researchers are optimistic that it’s going to happen.  

But if and when it does, the world needs to pay attention to how it’s handed out and we need to keep those most vulnerable to infection and death as an absolute priority.