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As the world reflects upon one year since the first cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and prepare for and experience surges in cases, it is important to identify the most crucial ethical issues that might lie ahead so that countries are able to plan accordingly. Some ethical issues are rather obvious to predict, such as the ethical issues surrounding the use of immunity certificates, contact tracing, and the fair allocation of vaccines globally. Yet, the most significant ethical challenge that the world must address in the next year and beyond is to ensure that we learn the ethical lessons of the first year of this pandemic. Learning from our collective experiences thus far constitutes our greatest moral obligation. Appreciating that decision-making in the context of a pandemic is constrained by unprecedented complexity and uncertainty, beginning in June 2020, an international group of 17 experts in bioethics spanning 15 countries (including low-, middle-, and high-income countries) met virtually to identify what we considered to be the most significant ethical challenges and accompanying lessons faced thus far in the COVID-19 pandemic. Once collected, the group met over the course of several virtual meetings to identify challenges and lessons that are analytically distinct in order to identify common ethical themes under which different challenges and lessons could be grouped. The result, described in this paper, is what this expert group consider to be the top five ethical lessons from the initial experience with COVID-19 that must be learned.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome Open Res

Publication Date





COVID-19, Ethics