Broad cross-national public support for accelerated COVID-19 vaccine trial designs

David Broockman, Joshua Kalla, Alexander Guerrero, Mark Budolfson, Nir Eyal, Nicholas P. Jewell, Monica Magalhaes, Jasjeet S. Sekhon

Publication Date: 01/08/2021

Abstract: A vaccine for COVID-19 is urgently needed. Several vaccine trial designs may significantly accelerate vaccine testing and approval, but also increase risks to human subjects. Concerns about whether the public would see such designs as ethical represent an important roadblock to their implementation; accordingly, both the World Health Organization and numerous scholars have called for consulting the public regarding them. We answered these calls by conducting a cross-national survey (n = 5920) in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand, South Africa, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The survey explained key differences between traditional vaccine trials and two accelerated designs: a challenge trial or a trial integrating a Phase II safety and immunogenicity trial into a larger Phase III efficacy trial. Respondents’ answers to comprehension questions indicate that they largely understood the key differences and ethical trade-offs between the designs from our descriptions. We asked respondents whether they would prefer scientists to conduct traditional trials or one of these two accelerated designs. We found broad majorities prefer for scientists to conduct challenge trials (75%) and integrated trials (63%) over standard trials. Even as respondents acknowledged the risks, they perceived both accelerated trials as similarly ethical to standard trial designs. This high support is consistent across every geography and demographic subgroup we examined, including vulnerable populations. These findings may help assuage some of the concerns surrounding accelerated designs.