Two experimental Ebola vaccines were deployed during the tenth Ebola epidemic (2018–20) in the DRC. International debate ensued about the value and ethics of testing a second vaccine in an epidemic context. This article examines how this debate unfolded among actual and potential trial participants for the second vaccine in Goma. Drawing on ethnographic observation, interviews and focus groups, it explores how the trial was perceived and contested on the ground and situated in broader debates about the ethics of clinical trials, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We illustrate how debates around the ethics of clinical research are not simply centred on bioethical principles but are inseparable from local political dynamics and broader contests about governance, inequality and exclusion.