Erasmus University and Erasmus MC together with Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences and Albeda wanted to monitor a total of two thousand students; five hundred per institution. The students would then administer a self-test twice per week before attending lectures. The researchers would then use a blood test to check whether the students have already had Covid-19, and sample PCR tests would be administered (standard health authority tests, ed.) to test the reliability. As these are medical interventions, the research first needed to be reviewed by the committee.
The review committee took a long time to reach its ruling. Project Manager Paul Goossens is unable to say why it took so long. According to EUR spokesperson Imad El Kaka, the wait was for the committee’s ruling, but when asked why the ruling took two months, he did not answer. “I am unable to answer that due to the appeal process.”
‘Learning by doing’
Initially, Goossens thought the project would be able to start in March, but this was postponed several times. In an interview in EM TV on 25 February, he said: “Right now, we’re mainly focusing on finding participants. We need to do that in the coming weeks.” Goossens now says recruiting participants can only start once the project has been approved by the medical ethics committee. “You call that learning by doing,” he said. He did emphasise, however, that it has always been clear that an ethical assessment would be needed before the experiment could start.
A statement on the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences intranet stated that Rotterdam educational institutions are not giving up and are still convinced of the need and purpose of the research. The institutions have appealed to the Central Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects (CCMO). Due to the appeal, the university is not making any further pronouncements on the content of the METC ruling.
Goossens did state that the research has not changed significantly. “We still stand behind the principles of this research,” explained Goossens. Goossens does not know when the CCMO will make a pronouncement about the appeal. “They do have fast tracks for Covid-19, and we hope that they will have space for us soon.”