Animal testing raises the ethical question of the Covid-19 vaccine for investors


The search for a Covid-19 vaccine highlights a massive dilemma for many ethical investors; any vaccine will be tested on animals and so violate the rights of those animals as sentient beings.

Ethical investors often don’t want to invest in companies that test on animals. But many of these same people (including me) will willingly take an effective Covid-19 vaccine knowing it will have been tested on animals.

Is this hypocritical?

I say not.

Medicines are not like cosmetics where cruelty-free alternatives exist.

If the law requires a potentially life-saving treatment to be tested on animals, nothing is gained by boycotting.

This reflects the reality of ethical challenges where things are rarely clear cut.

Ethical investors aim for good returns and the world we want, not good returns and the world we have.

The vaccine dilemma is not an isolated case.

It’s the same as ethical investors not investing in companies that extract fossil fuels and at the same time accepting that fossil fuels remain fundamental to building our civilisation.

We can avoid investing in fossil fuels and still catch a fossil fuel-powered bus to work every day.

Our law recognises animal rights as minimum welfare standards. But these minimum welfare standards can be overridden in the case of research, testing and teaching.

Rejecting animal testing for cosmetics is easy to understand. It’s widely accepted that the testing is unnecessary and the suffering is cruel (both New Zealand and the European Union ban animal testing on cosmetics products). A Covid-19 vaccine is at the other extreme, the law requires it to be first tested on animals.

Many argue from a science-based perspective that animal testing of medicines is not a reliable predictor of human safety. There are growing voices asking why animal testing is legally required if there are question marks around its efficacy.

Some animal testing is plainly outdated but still tolerated.

One of the worst examples is the ‘forced swim test’, inflicted on mice to test the effectiveness of anti-depressant drugs.

The premise is that if you put mice in a container of water from which they have no chance of escaping, the more depressed mice will give up swimming sooner and those that have been given human anti-depressants will hopefully swim for longer. Continue reading

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