The Problem With DIY Covid-19 Vaccines

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog
2 min readSep 10, 2020

Photo: Catherine Falls Commercial / Getty Images

There are two recently published stories about scientists who are developing and giving themselves DIY vaccines for Covid-19—one published by MIT Tech Review and one in the New York Times.

The vaccine is made by a scientist—Preston Estep, a genome researcher who lives in the Boston area—and many of the experts taking it are well respected in their fields. Yet DIY vaccine efforts are problematic because they bypass many important aspects of vaccine clinical trials—like testing for safety and effectiveness testing. It’s also an ethical nightmare.

As Arthur Caplan and Alison Bateman-House—both experts in the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Grossman School of Medicinewrite in Science these experiments can also undermine public trust. “The DIY… initiative is far more likely to contribute to growing public mistrust of all vaccines than it is to provide a path forward to combating the pandemic,” they write. “Those who are increasingly mistrustful of all the talk of ‘warp speed’ in promising a Covid-19 vaccine are hardly going to be encouraged to change their minds by rogue scientists experimenting with no oversight at the fringes of what is ethically acceptable.”

Without published data to be reviewed by peers in the field, there’s no follow-up or clear actions to protect people from potentially adverse reactions. There’s also plenty of financial conflicts in the project.

“The research is rife with conflicts of interest in that those making the vaccine are recruiting friends to try it while promoting their actions in the media,” Caplan and Bateman-House write. “They are not selling their vaccine but stand to benefit from attention in the media and any resulting philanthropic support.”

Scientists may believe that taking a vaccine made by a friend only puts themselves at risk, but that’s not the reality. Their actions suggest to the public that they will dismiss peer-reviewed science for their own gain. In a pandemic where trust is currency, it’s a potentially dangerous message.

Read more below.

Alexandra Sifferlin
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Health and science journalist. Former editor of Medium’s Covid-19 Blog and deputy editor at Elemental. TIME Magazine writer before that