Ongoing and future Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials: Challenges, opportunities
Large-scale deployment of Covid-19 vaccines will seriously affect the ongoing phases 2 and 3 randomised placebo-controlled trials assessing SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates. The effect will be particularly acute in high-income countries where the entire adult or older population could be vaccinated by late 2021. Regrettably, only a small proportion of the population in many low-income and middle-income countries will have access to available vaccines. Sponsors of Covid-19 vaccine candidates currently in phase 2 or initiating phase 3 trials in 2021 should consider continuing the research in countries with limited affordability and availability of Covid-19 vaccines.
Several ethical principles must be implemented to ensure the equitable, non-exploitative, and respectful conduct of trials in resource-poor settings. Once sufficient knowledge on the immunogenicity response to Covid-19 vaccines is acquired, non-inferiority immunogenicity trials - comparing the immune response of a vaccine candidate to that of an authorised vaccine - would probably be the most common trial design. Until then, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover trials will continue to play a role in the development of new vaccine candidates. WHO or the Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences should define an ethical framework for the requirements and benefits for trial participants and host communities in resource-poor settings that should require commitment from all vaccine candidate sponsors from high-income countries.
(The study has been authored by Dal-Ré R and others)