Reducing the Environmental Impact of Vaccine Clinical Trials

October 19, 2021 0 By Frankie Wallace

Climate change, like COVID-19, is a real and dangerous threat to humanity. Unfortunately, efforts to combat a public health crisis don’t always align with the fight against problematic environmental conditions. Amidst reports of environmental concerns stemming from vaccine clinical trials, it’s more important than ever to look at methods for reducing pollution as we search for medical solutions.

Fortunately, conducting clinical vaccine trials without causing more global harm is possible. Getting there, however, will require the help of data analysis as well as innovative green processes. 

As we examine the environmental impact of vaccine trials, we’ll explore methods for reducing the negative effects. In turn, we can produce a safer and cleaner future for all the citizens of the world, free from pandemics and climate crises. 

The Environmental Impact of Clinical Trials

By nature, massive efforts of human industry have an impact on the environment. To think otherwise is to fail to understand the way that the planet operates, the delicate balance formed by symbiotic systems to form an equilibrium fit for human life. But with large-scale efforts to solve a public health crisis, we tend to forget about the sustainability problem that has been long identified in the field of clinical research. 

The impact of clinical trials on energy consumption and waste is well documented. The British Medical Journal, for instance, found that a clinical trial emitted about the same amount of carbon dioxide as 32 people over a year. Meanwhile, medical waste is a huge problem in many parts of the world.

In the U.S., for example, a Milbank Quarterly study found clinical waste to represent around $65 billion of yearly unnecessary medical spending, offset for the cost of efficient procedures. With clinical treatments such a source of inefficiency, we forget how much waste is involved in just the trials. 

Consider the pre-packaged laboratory kits alone. Sure, they are convenient when it comes to following blood collection protocol, but these kits also expire quickly and come with a lot of waste involved.

In the course of the last two years, the research involved with creating and distributing COVID-19 vaccines undoubtedly produced mountains of waste. This is because of the way vaccines are made. Three phases of clinical trials have to occur, in which vaccines are given to hundreds, then thousands, of people. Then, phase IV testing begins, with its own set of waste products. 

Many of these inefficient processes are necessary to ensure the health and safety of those involved in the trial. Ethics in clinical research demands that all protocols are scrupulously maintained and accurate records kept to preserve the validity of results. At the same time, it is an ethical priority to reduce the waste and the environmental impact that come from inefficient resource use.

But how can researchers go about reducing their environmental impact?

Vaccine Trials

How Researchers Can Reduce Clinical Pollution

The process of creating and distributing vaccines for trial will always come with its environmental drawbacks. Especially where infectious diseases are concerned, a lot of vaccine waste will represent a biohazard and will thus be difficult to recycle. However, this doesn’t mean that creating a more efficient process for conducting trials and handling waste isn’t possible. 

In reality, there are all kinds of ways researchers might go about instituting more sustainable policies. From developing paperless standards to becoming a full-blown eco-warrior, you can support more sustainable vaccine trials in the future. 

Here are just some ideas for reducing the environmental impact of vaccine clinical trials:

  • Use facilities and energy sources that run on clean, renewable energy.
  • Streamline trail design to focus on only necessary data collection.
  • Increase the use of paperless and virtual communication to avoid travel emissions.
  • Implement waste sorting, disinfecting, and recycling procedures for clinical facilities.
  • Support legislation that promotes the use of clean energy.

The environmental impact of global vaccine trials will undoubtedly be significant when all the data is in. Vaccines take require an extensive development process to be determined safe enough for public use. Getting there produces waste. However, strategies like these can help researchers reduce the carbon emissions and waste output of clinical trials to support a cleaner environment.

As the impact of vaccine trials becomes clearer, we will be better positioned to develop the materials and processes for a more efficient rollout. In the meantime, technologies like 3D printing, 5G wireless networks, and machine learning algorithms all have their part to play. 

Technology can help reduce the environmental impact of vaccine clinical trials by giving researchers unprecedented transparency and control. First, additive manufacturing processes like 3D printing make it possible to develop biodegradable alternative materials for use in vaccine production and distribution. Second, the range of sensors and data collection tools available on the modern market can make for smart recycling techniques.

By applying more tech to the clinical trial process, researchers can cut down on pollution. 

A Safer, Cleaner Future

These best practices, as well as evolving technology, will be instrumental in reducing the environmental impact of clinical trials. As we integrate these solutions across scientific processes, we can cut down carbon emissions as well as pollution that comes out of improving human well-being. The result will be an improvement in health outcomes, with the benefits of vaccines no longer diminished by the negatives of pollution.

For a safer, cleaner future, explore the importance of sustainable vaccine trials, then support the practices and policies that will get us there.

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