AIDS vaccine trials in India: ethical benchmarks and unanswered questions
Vaccines have fascinated public health and clinical practitioners since Edward Jenner’s experimental inoculation of a young boy, James Philip, using cowpox blisters of the hand of Sarah Nelmes, a dairy worker. Less than 50 years later vaccination became the preferred method of combating smallpox in Britain and its empire, and the race to develop new vaccines against other diseases ensued. The fascination with vaccines gripped the scientific community and also shaped the social imagination with the vision of a world free of disease. This led to scientists experimenting not only on vulnerable subjects like children, prisoners and the poor but also on themselves. Indeed, in the early years of vaccine development, ethical considerations and the human rights of individuals and groups being experimented upon were sometimes given less importance. Enmeshed in this indifference to human rights is the history of colonialism and racism.
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