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ethics committees (ECs) protect the rights, safety, and well-being of research participants and ensure the scientific correctness of clinical research. COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown from 9 March to 16 May 2020 have potentially influenced several activities, including ECs. to assess the impact of COVID-19 outbreak on Italian ECs and their performance during the lockdown. cross-sectional survey. the survey was conducted in mid-June 2020 in Italy contacting all the 90 local ECs. amount and kind of activities performed during the lockdown, characteristics of submitted studies and adoption of standard protocols of evaluation of research applications during the pandemic. Chi-square test was used to estimate the differences between territories with higher incidence (HI) and lower incidence (LI) of COVID-19. 258 questionnaires were collected from 46 ECs that participated in the study. Ten were excluded due to missing substantial data. Responses were divided into two groups according to location of EC: the HI (125 responses) and the LI (123 responses). Seventy-five percent of the HI describe an increase in the number of studies submitted, while 53% of the LI does not (p=0.001). Due to the pandemic and its effects on research, the 15% of participants belonging to HI territories reported that consideration and respect of research-related and general ethical principles could have decreased, as well the adoption of standard protocols of evaluation of research applications. EC secretariats located in HI Regions moved to smart working more than in LI ones (75% vs 59%; p=0.001). Where the EC workload increased significantly, it was reported that it was impossible to perform an accurate analysis of the submitted documentation, with the effect of providing a favorable opinion to studies of not excellent quality, though always ensuring the respect of ethical principles and patients' safety. COVID-19 impact on ECs has been heavier in HI territories, but smart working has been effective in ensuring EC activities and the subsequent activation of clinical studies potentially useful to face the pandemic. Clear differences arise between ECs belonging to the Italian Regions that have recorded a HI of COVID-19 cases compared to those located in Regions with a LI of cases. In some EC members' perception, the high number of studies in the most affected Regions together with the emergency experienced during the lockdown may have exposed ECs to the risk of decreasing the adoption of ethical principles and standard protocols of evaluation of research applications.


Eleonora Monaco, Lorenza Pisano, Laura Nasato, Giulia Lorenzoni, Dario Gregori, Matteo Martinato. Ethics committees in the time of COVID-19. Epidemiologia e prevenzione. 2020 Sep-Dec;44(5-6 Suppl 2):113-118

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PMID: 33412801

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