The UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator is currently looking to commission research reviews on four topics related to the unequal impacts of the pandemic, self-reported data collection and international aid, and is recruiting a Communications and Public Affairs Manager.

As the Covid-19 pandemic broke early in 2020, questions quickly began to arise that presented policymakers with challenges of a profoundly ethical nature. Some of these were immediate, clear and acute: how do we prioritise ICU beds if services are overwhelmed? Some became clear as the differential effects of the pandemic emerged: whether and how to protect those who appear most vulnerable, such as the elderly? Some emerged as drug and vaccine development picked up speed: how do we allocate limited vaccine supplies? Some questions were less apparent but persisted: how do we manage personal health data during the first worldwide pandemic of the digital age? There were, and are, many more.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has engaged with most of these issues. It has published a range of briefings and statements, and has been involved in public and policy discussions throughout the past 18 months. Others have done likewise, though frustrated at times by the obscurity of decision-making and the lack of clarity about how ethical advice and deliberation has supported that decision-making.

Important questions remain to be addressed not only in respect of the ongoing management of the virus today, but also for the sake of preparedness of the inevitable pandemic of tomorrow. To consider these questions we need to continue to mobilise the UK’s outstanding expertise in ethics research, bringing it to bear on these multiple ongoing challenges.

It was to this end that through the second half of 2020, the Nuffield Council worked with the Universities of Oxford (lead partner), Bristol, Edinburgh and UCL to establish the UKRI-funded UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator, a collaborative effort to harness the work of the academic bioethics community and bring it to public and policy spheres. The aim was, and is, to ensure that ongoing Covid-19 policy, and preparedness for future pandemics, has access to the best possible ethical thinking conducted in a public-facing manner. As such, the project is also supporting engagement with the public on these important questions, as this will be vital in developing robust and legitimate policies that are capable of gathering public support.

The priority areas under which the work of the Ethics Accelerator is gathered are:

  1. data use
  2. prioritisation
  3. public health and health inequalities
  4. public values, transparency and governance
  5. foresight

Currently funded until mid-2022, the project has already delivered a significant output, including, for example:

  • Ethics reviews covering issues such as immunity certification; fairness and inequalities; and public engagement during pandemics
  • Responses to Government consultations including those on mandatory vaccination in care homes and the NHSX ‘data saves lives’ consultation
  • Research papers on the quality of Covid tests and on the justification of liberty-restricting policies
  • Blog posts and articles on issues around prioritisation, vaccine strategies, public engagement, effects on education, data management, personal responsibility and many more
  • A public dialogue exercise that explored people’s experience of and thoughts about Covid and the policy response. This exercise will inform further work, and a report of it will be published in the coming weeks.

The Ethics Accelerator does not seek to speak with a single voice, but rather it values and promotes pluralism. The Nuffield Council, for example, supports and works with the Accelerator, but retains its own unique voice in its contributions to public and policy debates.

Moreover, the Ethics Accelerator does not want to limit its activity to its core partners, but seeks to engage others working in the field of bioethics to engage and work together to support policy discussions, whether in Government, Parliament or health institutions.

To facilitate wider academic involvement, the Ethics Accelerator has launched commissioning calls in which it invites proposals for funded research reviews to address some of these important ongoing and future issues. These include invitations to contribute work on:

  • impacts for disabled and chronically ill communities (deadline 1 October)
  • impacts for LGBTQIA+ communities (deadline 1 October)
  • the ethics of self-reported data collection (deadline 7 October)
  • the pandemic and international aid (deadline 8 October)

There will be other calls to follow. Academic colleagues are invited and warmly encouraged to look at these and use this opportunity to support ongoing ethical deliberation around pandemic-related issues. You can also contact the Ethics Accelerator team with any other ideas or proposals for related activities.

The current pandemic is far from over. Its effects are still being felt, especially by those who have been most vulnerable, through health or employment status, for example, and by those who have suffered bereavement or isolation. It has exposed a number of clear weaknesses and inequalities in social structures that should be a concern to us all. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics and its partners in the Ethics Accelerator are committed to engaging further with these issues and to promoting policy responses that engage fully with public values, concerns and priorities. Through the commissioning calls and other engagement activities, we invite others to join us in this work over the coming weeks, months, and possibly years.

The Accelerator is currently recruiting a Communications and Public Affairs Manager. This is a key role within the project team that involves developing strategies and initiatives to communicate and promote the work of the Accelerator to relevant stakeholders, primarily through public and parliamentary affairs activities.

Comments (1)

  • Wellington Oyibo   

    I am delighted to participate in this discuss and looking forward to an active interface!

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