“Good morning from Prison Island UK,” a woman wrote on Twitter Friday morning. “Just a reminder that The Nuremberg Code demands voluntary consent of participants in medical experiments. It forbids duress, overreach and coercion to obtain such consent. How many of the vaxxed were made aware that the jab is an experiment?”
This argument can be found all over social media — and it’s wrong.
The COVID-19 vaccines are not experimental at this point, and so the Nuremberg Code does not apply to people receiving them.
The international ethical code grew out of the U.S.-led war-crimes trials of Nazi doctors who conducted murderous medical experiments on prisoners during World War II. The New England Journal of Medicine calls the Nuremberg Code “the most important document in the history of the ethics of medical research.”
The code has served as the standard for ethics in medical research ever since. It was adopted by the American Medical Association’s policy-making body in 1946.
The key aspect of the code that’s being cited by anti-vaccination activists is the principle that human research subjects must provide informed and voluntary consent, “without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion.”
Some COVID-19 vaccination opponents argue that governments are not telling people that the vaccines are experimental while encouraging everyone to get vaccinated.
Except the vaccines are not experimental. Yes, they were created and tested very quickly, a true marvel of scientific innovation. And, yes, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines were approved and put into production in the U.S. and other countries with “emergency,” or temporary, governmental authorization, before they’d worked their way through the full, typically lengthy regulatory-approval process for licensure. But this emergency authorization occurred after the vaccines had gone through ethically rigorous clinical trials.
The Oregon Health Authority points out that “tens of thousands of people from many diverse backgrounds, age groups and geographic locations participated in COVID-19 vaccine testing.”
Full Fact, a British non-profit fact-checking service, does not think it’s a coincidence that anti-vaccination propaganda is focusing on ethics principles that came about in response to Nazi atrocities — because the very subject of the 1933-45 Nazi regime in Germany gets people worked up. “Misinformation thrives when feelings are manipulated in this way, as claims which create an emotional response are most likely to be shared,” the fact-checker states.
“Drawing a link between this final rollout of these [COVID-19] vaccines and what the Nazi doctors were doing is morally grotesque,” Dr. Julian Sheather, a special adviser in ethics and human rights for the British Medical Association, told Full Fact.
Another anti-vaccination argument is that any rule or policy, from a private business or government entity, that requires individuals to prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19 also violates the Nuremberg Code principles “on the grounds that if you have to have a vaccine in order to do something like travel or work, you are not actually consenting but are being forced.”
Emma Cave, a law professor at England’s Durham University, told Full Fact that we should be debating such requirements, but not within the context of the Nuremberg Code, which is specifically about the human rights of medical-experiment subjects, not governmental public-health policy.
She pointed out that such public-health policies are nothing new, noting that some governments for years have required proof of inoculations against certain diseases, such as polio and yellow fever, before allowing travelers to enter their country.
To sum up, governmental efforts to vaccinate the citizenry against COVID-19, or set rules about proof of vaccination, have nothing to do with the Nuremberg Code. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that the COVID-19 vaccines being used in the U.S. are “safe and effective” and that they “have undergone and will continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.”