Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Optimal Use of Suboptimal Vaccines

There's an interesting piece in the NYT warning against hasty FDA approval of a (potentially) suboptimal covid vaccine.  I'm especially interested in the third reason they offer:

Third, the F.D.A. must consider the impact of an emergency authorization on existing vaccine studies. There are almost 40 continuing vaccine clinical trials, and several have been identified as promising. Those trials are blind, which means that the participants do not know whether they are getting the vaccine or a placebo. Would some participants drop out and opt for the newly authorized vaccine, undermining those studies? Would the trials be able to recruit additional participants who would risk getting a placebo once there was an authorized vaccine?

It would seem pretty messed up if we had to deprive millions of people of a potentially life-saving vaccine (say, one that might cut covid fatalities by half) because that was the only way to ensure that we could find unvaccinated volunteers to test (potentially) better vaccines (to find one that would ultimately bring about the swiftest end to the pandemic).  Ideally, we should want most people to make use of the suboptimal vaccine in the meantime, whilst incentivizing/compensating research participants to forego the current vaccine and instead stick with their trials, to help society find an even better vaccine.

If only our society had invented some means of exchange that could be used to provide the necessary incentive/compensation!  Failing that, I guess we must simply watch as more people die...

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