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SARS-CoV-2 safer infection sites: moral entitlement, pragmatic harm reduction strategy or ethical outrage?
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  1. Megan F Hunt1,
  2. Katharine T Clark1,
  3. Gail Geller2,
  4. Anne Barnhill2
  1. 1Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  2. 2The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Ms Megan F Hunt, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA; mhunt25{at}jhmi.edu

Abstract

The pandemic of SARS-CoV-2 has led to unprecedented changes to society, causing unique problems that call for extraordinary solutions. We consider one such extraordinary proposal: ‘safer infection sites’ that would offer individuals the opportunity to be intentionally infected with SARS-CoV-2, isolate, and receive medical care until they are no longer infectious. Safer infection could have value for various groups of workers and students. Health professionals place themselves at risk of infection daily and extend this risk to their family members and community. Similarly, other essential workers who face workplace exposure must continue their work, even if have high-risk household members and live in fear of infecting. When schools are kept closed because of the fear that they will be sites of significant transmission, children and their families are harmed in multiple ways and college students who are living on campus, whether or not they are attending classes in person, are contributing to high rates of transmission and experiencing high rates of exposure. We consider whether offering safer infection sites to these groups could be ethically defensible and identify the empirical unknowns that would need to resolve before reaching definitive conclusions. This article is not an endorsement of intentional infection with the coronavirus, but rather is meant to spark conversation on the ethics of out-of-the-box proposals. Perhaps most meaningfully, our paper explores the value of control and peace of mind for those among us most impacted by the pandemic: those essential workers risking the most to keep us safe.

  • ethics
  • health workforce
  • occupational health
  • education
  • children

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Footnotes

  • Contributors All authors contributed to the development, research and writing of this project.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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