Seminar Series: Dr. Charles Weijer

The ethics of SARS-CoV-2 human challenge studies

Charles Weijer, PhDweijer_headshot.png

Department of Medicine
Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics
Department of Philosophy
Western University


In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, human challenge studies with SARS-CoV-2 were proposed as a means to speed vaccine development and save lives. To date, modern human challenge studies have been restricted to infectious agents that are well understood and which do not pose a substantial risk of disability or death to participants. But our understanding of COVID-19 continues to develop. Risks associated with COVID-19, including in young people, include myocarditis, stroke, long COVID and death. Proponents argue ethical norms are too conservative and may be set aside in a pandemic, provided informed volunteers are willing to participate. Are SARS-CoV-2 human challenge studies permissible ethically? And what should be the role of challenge studies trials in a global pandemic?

Short Biography:

Charles Weijer is Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology & Biostatistics, and Philosophy at Western University in London, Canada. He is a leading expert in the ethics of randomized controlled trials. From 2008 to 2013 Charles co-led a collaboration that produced the first international ethics guidelines for cluster randomized trials. His current work explores ethical issues in pragmatic randomized controlled trials that evaluate health interventions in real-world conditions to better inform patients, health providers and health systems managers. Charles led the writing team for the World Health Organization guidance on “Ethical Considerations for Health Policy and Systems Research,” published in 2019. In 2020, he served on the WHO Working Group for Guidance on Human Challenge Studies in COVID-19. Charles held the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics from 2005 to 2019, and, in 2016, he was elected to the Royal Society of Canada.