R

ecent revelations that a U.S. researcher injected Americans with his experimental herpes vaccine without routine safety oversight raised an uproar among scientists and ethicists.

Not only did Southern Illinois University researcher William Halford vaccinate Americans offshore, he injected other participants in U.S. hotel rooms without Food and Drug Administration oversight or even a medical license. Since then, several participants have complained of side effects.

But don’t expect the disclosures after Halford’s death in June to trigger significant institutional changes or government response, research experts say.

advertisement

“A company, university or agency generally does not take responsibility or take action on their own to help participants, even if they’re hurt in the trial,” said Carl Elliott, a professor in the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota. “These types of cases are really a black hole in terms of accountability.”

The federal government once scrutinized or even froze research at universities after learning of such controversies. Now, experts said, the oversight agencies tend to avoid action even in the face of the most outrageous abuses.

Experts said the U.S. regulatory agencies are especially unprepared to deal with off-the-grid experiments like Halford’s. He recruited subjects through Facebook and in some cases didn’t require signed consent forms, or informed participants outright that the experiments flouted FDA oversight. These patients, many who struggle with chronic, painful herpes, proceeded anyway in their quest for a cure. After Halford’s offshore trial, Peter Thiel, a libertarian and adviser to President Donald Trump, pitched in millions of dollars for future research.

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

Sign up for our Morning Rounds newsletter

Your daily dose of what’s new in health and medicine.

Privacy Policy