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  • Anannya Das

Practical and Ethical Challenges to the Coronavirus Vaccine

Illustration of COVID-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After weeks of sheltering in place, many people are unemployed and beginning to want “liberation” from the lockdown, fearing for their socioeconomic stability. Some countries in North America and western Europe are planning to ease restrictions, but nobody is completely safe until a coronavirus vaccine is available.

Since COVID-19 began, scientists have been trying to find a vaccine in order to stop the spread of the disease, but creating one is not easy. The coronavirus is a relatively new disease, and therefore scientists don’t know how well the body’s immune system can fight against it. Also, COVID-19 could be a virus that mutates quickly, therefore rendering any new vaccine useless.

Despite these obstacles, scientists are still pushing to create a vaccine. As of April 23, there are six vaccine candidates in clinical evaluation and 77 in pre-clinical evaluation, according to the World Health Organization. Interestingly, the six in clinical evaluation are either viral vector vaccines or nucleic acid-based vaccines, which are relatively new types of vaccines.

Recently, an ethical question has been raised about “challenge trials,” where scientists intentionally infect people with COVID-19 and then administer a vaccine to see its efficacy. Supporters state that this allows researchers to understand the effectiveness faster than in traditional clinical trials, but others wonder if it is okay to inject people with a virus with such a high mortality rate. Our situation is extraordinary, and scientists may have to go down unprecedented routes in order to end this pandemic.