The collaborative has received £1.4M funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation rapid response to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 crisis has demanded that policy-makers, researchers, health and social care workers, and members of the public address unprecedented ethical dilemmas every day. The complexity and speed by which the challenges from COVID-19 arise lead to harms on a significant scale, some of which are inevitable while some may be avoidable.
The Accelerator provides rapid evidence, guidance and critical analysis to inform policy and help improve decision-making. It also supports, informs and promotes public debate around key ethical challenges, and ensures that ethical thinking is embedded at the core of future pandemic preparedness.
By coordinating and focusing national investment in ethics research, the initiative will maximise the impact of ethical considerations across science, medicine, policy and society. This approach should help improve transparency and accountability, and improve public trust in decision-makers.
The collaborative’s Principal Investigator, Ilina Singh, Professor of Neuroscience & Society in the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics & Humanities at the University of Oxford, said:
'This pandemic has raised enormous challenges that require world-leading science together with world-leading ethics to enable public trust and accountability. We are a vital partner in the UK’s COVID-19 research response infrastructure, ensuring it can be guided by both ethical and scientific considerations. We have already helped to inform discussion around mass testing for COVID-19 and vaccine prioritisation, and we are now identifying issues and supporting ethical decision-making across public health, policy, medicine and education. We know that the burden of responsibility and accountability for making everyday decisions has become a real source of anxiety for people, so we will engage members of the public so we can learn how to support them best. The collaborative is also thinking ahead to what the post-COVID pandemic landscape will look like, so we can anticipate and help mitigate the structural inequalities it has laid bare.'
The Accelerator will initially address five key themes:
- Data use: ethical challenges arising from large-scale data collection, access, and use, such as those arising from the NHS tracking app and vaccine certification.
- Foresight: ethical challenges arising from the current pandemic such as vaccine passports, and preparedness for future pandemic crises.
- Prioritisation: the values informing access to resources, such as vaccine distribution and treatment triaging policies, the deployment of mass testing, and the use of public health interventions such as quarantine.
- Public health and health inequalities: identifying values and ethical challenges to inform equitable policy and practice, given that the direct and indirect impacts of covid-19 have both underscored and exacerbated structural health inequalities.
- Public values, transparency and governance: ensuring public attitudes and engagements inform policy-making when individuals’ and societies’ core interests and values, including health, well-being, equity, social justice and liberty, are at stake.
The UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator Co-Investigators are:
- University of Bristol: Professor John Coggon
- University of Edinburgh: Dr Sarah Chan and Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley
- University of Oxford: Professors Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu
- University College London: Dr Melanie Smallman and Professor James Wilson
- Nuffield Council on Bioethics: Hugh Whittall
For more information about the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator and to follow on twitter.