Joint UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator and University of Oxford Press Release

UK Pandemic Ethics Acclerator logo
University of Oxford logo showing the university crest on a dark blue background

A new national initiative to bring ethical thinking into pandemic policy-making launches today.

The UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator harnesses and mobilises the UK’s internationally renowned expertise in ethics research. Four major UK universities and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics form the collaborative and have received £1.4M funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation rapid response to covid.

The covid-19 crisis has demanded that policy-makers, researchers, health and social care workers, and members of the public address unprecedented ethical dilemmas every day. The complexity and speed by which the challenges from covid-19 arise lead to harms on a significant scale, some of which are inevitable while some may be avoidable.

The Accelerator provides rapid evidence, guidance and critical analysis to inform policy and help improve decision-making. It also supports, informs and promotes public debate around key ethical challenges, and ensures that ethical thinking is embedded at the core of future pandemic preparedness.

By coordinating and focusing national investment in ethics research, the initiative will maximise the impact of ethical considerations across science, medicine, policy and society. This approach should help improve transparency and accountability, and improve public trust in decision-makers.

The collaborative’s Principal Investigator, Ilina Singh, Professor of Neuroscience & Society in the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director of the Wellcome Centre for Ethics & Humanities at the University of Oxford said: “This pandemic has raised enormous challenges that require world-leading science together with world-leading ethics to enable public trust and accountability. We are a vital partner in the UK’s covid-19 research response infrastructure, ensuring it can be guided by both ethical and scientific considerations.

“We have already helped to inform discussion around mass testing for covid-19 and vaccine prioritisation, and we are now identifying issues and supporting ethical decision-making across public health, policy, medicine and education. We know that the burden of responsibility and accountability for making everyday decisions has become a real source of anxiety for people, so we will engage members of the public so we can learn how to support them best. The collaborative is also thinking ahead to what the post-covid pandemic landscape will look like, so we can anticipate and help mitigate the structural inequalities it has laid bare.”

The Accelerator will initially address five key themes:

  • Data use: ethical challenges arising from large-scale data collection, access, and use, such as those arising from the NHS tracking app and vaccine certification.
  • Foresight: ethical challenges arising from the current pandemic such as vaccine passports, and preparedness for future pandemic crises.
  • Prioritisation: the values informing access to resources, such as vaccine distribution and treatment triaging policies, the deployment of mass testing, and the use of public health interventions such as quarantine.
  • Public health and health inequalities: identifying values and ethical challenges to inform equitable policy and practice, given that the direct and indirect impacts of covid-19 have both underscored and exacerbated structural health inequalities.
  • Public values, transparency and governance: ensuring public attitudes and engagements inform policy-making when individuals’ and societies’ core interests and values, including health, well-being, equity, social justice and liberty, are at stake.

Notes to Editors

UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator

  • The Accelerator’s Co-Investigators are:
    • University of Bristol: Professor John Coggon
    • University of Edinburgh: Dr Sarah Chan and Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley
    • University of Oxford: Professors Dominic Wilkinson and Julian Savulescu 
    • University College London: Dr Melanie Smallman and Professor James Wilson 
    • Nuffield Council on Bioethics: Hugh Whittall
  • UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator partners have so far delivered a variety of papers on key issues arising in the pandemic such as vaccine prioritisation and passporting; have engaged with the Government’s review of immunity certification; and have given a number of media interviews. Their work will also help develop a platform for ensuring that ethical considerations are built into UK preparedness for its response to future pandemics.

Oxford University

  • Oxford University has been placed number 1 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the fifth year running, and at the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation. Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.
  • The Oxford University Department of Psychiatry’s mission is to conduct world-class research, teach psychiatry to medical students, develop future researchers in a graduate programme, teach doctors in training, promote excellence in clinical practice, and develop and provide innovative clinical services. It supports research in four key areas: neurobiology, psychological treatments, developmental psychiatry and social psychiatry. The Department is committed to the translation of scientific discovery into benefits for patients.


Shaun Griffin
Nuffield Council on Bioethics, on behalf of the UK Pandemic Ethics Accelerator
Mobile: 07710 307059