Characterizing altruistic motivation in potential volunteers for SARS-CoV-2 challenge trials (Abigail Marsh et al.)


In human challenge trials (HCTs), volunteers are deliberately infected with an infectious agent. Such trials can be used to accelerate vaccine development and answer important scientific questions. Starting early in the COVID-19 pandemic, ethical concerns were raised about using HCTs to accelerate development and approval of a vaccine. Some of those concerns pertained to potential exploitation of and/or lack of truly informed consent from volunteers. Specific areas of concern arose around individuals who may be unusually risk-seeking or too economically vulnerable to refuse the payments these trials provide, as opposed to being motivated primarily by altruistic goals. This pre-registered study is the first large-scale survey to characterize people who, early in the pandemic, expressed interest and intention to volunteer to participate in COVID-19 HCTs. We found that individuals expressing interest in SARS-CoV-2 HCTs exhibit consistently altruistic motivations without any special indication of poor risk perception or economic vulnerability. In finding that, early in the pandemic, COVID-19 HCTs were able to attract volunteers whose values align with the nature of these trials, and who are not unusually vulnerable to exploitation, this study may allay some ethical concerns about the volunteers interested in participating in such trials.


Marsh, A. A., Magalhaes, M., Peeler, M., Rose, S. M., Darton, T. C., Eyal, N., Morrison, J., Shah, S. K., & Schmit, V. (2022). Characterizing altruistic motivation in potential volunteers for SARS-CoV-2 challenge trials. PLOS ONE, 17(11), e0275823.