By Dr. Max Gomez

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – More than a hundred different companies and research centers are racing to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

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We’ve been told it might take 12 to 18 months, but some say it could be the end of the year. All are wildly optimistic given that every approved vaccine we have took years, even decades, to develop and test.

The only way a coronavirus vaccine can be ready with a year or so is by taking significant, possibly risky shortcuts.

The most time-consuming stage in vaccine development is phase-3, where a test vaccine is usually given to tens of thousands of people to see if they are protected compared to an unvaccinated control group over a period of years.

Now, in order to accelerate that stage, serious researchers have proposed in the journal Science to vaccinate volunteers and then deliberately expose them to the COVID-19 virus to test the effectiveness of the vaccine.

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This move raises difficult ethical questions given the virus’’s potential lethality. Key points include: Participant selection, informed consent, is the risk beyond reasonable and does the value to society justify the risks.

A coronavirus vaccine human challenge working group has formed and, writing in the journal Reason conclude, along with the World Health Organization, that the ethical considerations are surmountable.

The potential benefit to society is clear: Volunteer risk would be minimized by enrolling young, healthy people with a low-risk of serious illness and who would be closely monitored and isolated.

While not all will agree that this shortcut is appropriate, the time to discuss the issue is before vaccines are ready for human challenge trials.

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