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Immunisation for medical researchers: an ethical and practical imperative

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Participants in medical research are the most valuable resource within health research, and their wellbeing must be regarded as paramount. Australia’s national statement on ethical conduct in human research1 establishes that the burden is on researchers to safeguard the health, wellbeing and autonomy of their research participants. We argue that additional guidance is required in an area that has not been widely considered in the ethical research literature and policy: immunisation coverage of the research team.

It is acknowledged that health care workers with immunisation-preventable diseases infect their patients.2,3 There is no reason to believe that researchers are exempt from transmitting these diseases to their participants. There are national guidelines4 that provide evidence-based recommendations on immunisation for people at occupational risk, but this guidance does not specifically refer to researchers.

We present a case study to illustrate the issue. We undertook a cross-generational longitudinal study examining environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors influencing health and wellbeing across the lifespan. The study, based at a medical research institute, involved recruiting pregnant women in collaboration with the local health district. University researchers…