The urgency of the search for a vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 is beyond measure. Every day that passes without discovery of either, thousands more people die around the world. Experts shudder at the prospect of the contagion that might lie ahead in parts of the globe where it has yet to run its course, such as the African continent, or in Muslim countries, for instance Indonesia, during the month of Ramadan. The sense of urgency is heightened, if possible, by fears that people might resort to incredible “treatments”, such as a scarcely believable suggestion by US President Donald Trump – since clarified as “sarcasm” and not meant to be taken seriously – that patients inject themselves with disinfectant. It has also prompted serious concern among ethicists about an unintended consequence that could be just as dangerous as the illness itself. They have warned researchers and public figures not to accept bad science simply out of desperation. Writing in Science magazine, they claim that some scientists have already sacrificed the essential disciplines of methodical rigour and quality control for the sake of speed in the race to find treatments. The consequences could be unthinkable, such as putting patients at increased risks, including disability or even death. Jonathan Kimmelman, biomedical ethicist at McGill University in Montreal, says there is just as much at stake, if not more, in putting out low-quality findings during a pandemic as outside it. Trials have begun of new vaccines, and of new and existing treatments designed for other diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. Coronavirus vaccine: WHO to issue guidelines on human challenge trials Doctors are no strangers to moral and ethical dilemmas. Life-threatening situations such as pandemics amplify them. For example, while the imperative is to do no harm, if a patient is in dire need in an emergency a doctor may use a drug intended for another illness if it might help. But however well-intentioned, mistaken or reckless use of new vaccines or old drugs amid a pandemic cannot only harm the patient and waste valuable resources, it can also jeopardise the public trust that is fundamental to the humanitarian mission of medical science. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.