As independent scientists’ do-it-yourself-COVID-vaccines proliferate, bioethicists counter with warnings

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Biohacker Josiah Zayner at his lab, where he's creating a DIY COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Michael Short/Bloomberg

“It’s actually simpler than most recipes in home cookbooks,” said Preston Estep, chief scientist and co-founder of a DIY [COVID vaccine] effort backed by a Harvard geneticist. Estep said he hopes that his group’s unapproved vaccine, which is inhaled through a nasal spray, might give people sheltering at home more confidence and protection.

“In my view, it is unethical to tell people to wait two years for something that’s available today,” said another DIY proponent, entrepreneur and microbiologist Johnny Stine.

The DIY nature of these experiments means no one is formally keeping track of what happens to people who take these vaccines — whether they get sick, or if they’re protected from coronavirus infection, explained Jennifer Miller, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine and founder of Bioethics International and the Good Pharma Scorecard.

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Estep doesn’t sell his vaccine, but believes bioethicists critical of the DIY movement “misunderstand the situation.”

“All they are talking about is the risks, but that’s a completely unbalanced perspective,” Estep said. “They’re not presenting the risks of not taking [a DIY vaccine] which are substantial and clear and happening every day.”

But bioethicists warn the potential damage caused by DIY vaccines goes beyond each person who chooses to participate. These efforts could harm public trust, eroding the already fragile credibility of legitimately tested and vetted vaccines.

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