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Research ethics and public trust in vaccines: the case of COVID-19 challenge trials
  1. Nir Eyal
  1. Center for Population-Level Bioethics, Department of Philosophy (SAS) and Department of HBSP (SPH), Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
  1. Correspondence to Professor Nir Eyal, Center for Population-Level Bioethics, Dept of Philosophy (SAS) and Dept of HBSP (SPH), Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA; nir.eyal{at}


Despite their clearly demonstrated safety and effectiveness, approved vaccines against COVID-19 are commonly mistrusted. Nations should find and implement effective ways to boost vaccine confidence. But the implications for ethical vaccine development are less straightforward than some have assumed. Opponents of COVID-19 vaccine challenge trials, in particular, made speculative or empirically implausible warnings on this matter, some of which, if applied consistently, would have ruled out most COVID-19 vaccine trials and many non-pharmaceutical responses.

  • COVID-19
  • research ethics
  • clinical trials
  • public health ethics
  • ethics

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  • Correction notice Since this article was first published, an acknowledgement section has been added.

  • Contributors NE has conceptualised and written this entire essay.

  • Funding This study was funded by National Science Foundation (Award # 2039320), Open Philanthropy (Award # not applicable).

  • Competing interests NE serves on the Advisory Board of challenge trial volunteer organisation 1DaySooner (a non-profit promoting human challenge trials in COVID-19), an unpaid position.

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