Ethical concerns shouldn’t derail development of new Covid-19 vaccines: Panel, Singapore News & Top Stories
SINGAPORE – Singapore must continue to support and stimulate the development of new technological platforms to produce Covid-19 vaccines faster and possibly with greater efficiency despite the ethical issues surrounding it.
That was the advice of Professor Tan Chorh Chuan, chief health scientist at the Ministry of Health (MOH), during a two-day virtual public conference that began on Thursday, June 17. The event is organized to mark the 20th anniversary of the Consultative Committee on Bioethics (BAC).
It was created to deal with ethical, legal and social issues arising from biomedical science research in Singapore and makes recommendations to the government.
Ethical issues surround the development of new vaccines, especially how they will be tested on people, once effective and safe vaccines have already been made available.
But the development of vaccines remains paramount, to fight against the variants of Covid-19 or perhaps target a class of virus rather than a single specific one, going beyond the current first generation of vaccines, said Professor Tan .
“I think in basic research, in the preclinical stages, these (ethical questions) may not be as important, but once we get into human studies they will come to the fore. But I think if they are carried out. under properly controlled and regulated conditions, these (studies) should be allowed to continue, so that we can continue to develop our body of knowledge on more effective ways to treat this particular virus, ”he said. .
The IBC is chaired by retired District Chief Justice Richard Magnus, who was on a conversation answering questions from event attendees, with Professor Tan. The other members of the panel were Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, Director of Singapore Medical Services; and Prof. Lee Eng Hin, consultant emeritus in orthopedic surgery at the National University Hospital, also a member of the BAC.
In the first question-and-answer session on Thursday, the panel highlighted a few key areas with potential ethical issues that the committee will need to address in the years to come.
There is, for example, the issue of maximizing human potential by doing more during pregnancy and early childhood so that young people can have the best health trajectory.
Another area is precision health where data can be gathered to generate information, for example to identify people who might be at higher risk for disease.
There will also be problems in newer biotherapies, such as RNA, DNA and genetic therapies, which can help fight diseases that have resisted current modes of treatment.
Ethical issues such as equity of access need to be carefully considered. The cost of these new technologies can be quite high and it is possible that these clinical services will only become available to those who can afford them, said Professor Mak.
As data is collected for a variety of reasons and artificial intelligence technologies are applied to it, there is also a need to define the ethical use of data and how privacy is maintained, he said.
“There are vulnerabilities every time we collect data … the risk of cyber hacking and data theft is real,” he said.
In areas such as genome editing, this could also have many implications, and the impact on future generations is still unknown, Professor Lee added.
About the BAC
The BAC was established by the Cabinet to deal with ethical, legal and social issues arising from biomedical science research in Singapore. It has 15 members from diverse backgrounds such as law, biomedical research, medicine, philosophy, sociology and education as well as representatives of religious groups and the media.
The committee focuses on three main areas: protecting the rights and well-being of individuals; public education and source of information on bioethical issues; and the identification of general principles to govern the ethical, legal and social implications of research in human biology.
December 2000: The BAC is established.
July 2002: Next, Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan announces the government’s acceptance of the BAC’s recommendations on research and cloning of human stem cells.
July 2010: BAC organizes and hosts the 10th World Congress on Bioethics.
April 2012: BAC President Richard Magnus becomes the first Singaporean appointed to UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee (IBC) for the 2012-2015 term.
November 2013: Singapore was elected member of the Intergovernmental Bioethics Committee (IGBC) of Unesco during the 37th session of the General Conference of Unesco for the period 2013-2017.
October 2017: Singapore is re-elected as a member of the IGBC for the 2018-2021 term and re-elected as rapporteur of the IGBC for the 2018-2019 term.
February 2020: BAC member Professor Lee Eng Hin is appointed IBC member for the 2020-2023 term. He succeeds Mr. Magnus as Singapore’s representative to Unesco.