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AbstractGlobal health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic are contexts in which it is critical to draw upon learning from prior research and to conduct novel research to inform real-time decision-making and pandemic responses. While research is vitally important, however, emergencies are radically non-ideal contexts for its conduct, due to exceptional uncertainty, urgency, disruption, health needs, and strain on existing health systems, amongst other challenges. This generates novel ethical challenges and a broader conception of research ethics is necessary to effectively address the complexity of pandemic research contexts. Going beyond traditional approaches to research ethics centring on the design of specific studies, this broader conception requires consideration of fundamental questions relating to the exercise of power and influence throughout research pathways, and a broader attention to both salient ethical issues, and the ethical responsibilities of stakeholders. These include important questions about responsibilities to gather evidence and generate knowledge systematically during emergencies, to implement policy responses in ways that are amenable to evaluation, and even potential moral obligations to participate in research. In situations of heightened uncertainty, additional questions arise about what constitutes sufficient evidence to justify the development and implementation of policy responses, and the responsibilities of scientific and social science researchers involved in policy-making processes. The four cases in this chapter prompt reflection on evolving and at times competing values and responsibilities of policy-makers, regulators, health authorities and researchers during the design and conduct of research, and proposed early implementation of research findings. These cases highlight issues arising when conducting research of national importance in a pandemic, where researchers are required to liaise with authorities responsible for pandemic responses and address complex ethical issues, including protecting the interests of participants and publics when tensions arise between prioritising the completion of research and accelerating the rollout of novel health interventions. This chapter invites reflection on the practical ethical implications of commitments to undertake research during emergencies, including the nature and scope of the relevant responsibilities of a range of stakeholders.

Original publication





Book title

Public Health Ethics Analysis


Springer International Publishing

Publication Date



1 - 22