Volume 35, Issue 18, Pages 2279-2530 (25 April 2017)
Off-label use of vaccines
Pieter Neels, James Southern, Jon Abramson, Philippe Duclos, Joachim Hombach, Melanie Marti, Alanna Fitzgerald-Husek, Jacqueline Fournier-Caruana, Germaine Hanquet
This article reviews the off-label recommendations and use of vaccines, and focuses on the differences between the labelled instructions on how to use the vaccine as approved by the regulatory authorities (or “label”1), and the recommendations for use issued by public health advisory bodies at national and international levels. Differences between public health recommendations and the product label regarding the vaccine use can lead to confusion at the level of vaccinators and vaccinees and possibly result in lower compliance with national vaccination schedules. In particular, in many countries, the label may contain regulatory restrictions and warnings against vaccination of specific population groups (e.g. pregnant women) due to a lack of evidence of safety from controlled trials at the time of initial licensure of the vaccine, while public health authorities may recommend the same vaccine for that group, based on additional post-marketing data and benefit risk analyses.
We provide an overview of the different responsibilities between regulatory authorities and public health advisory bodies, and the rationale for off-label use2 of vaccines, the challenges involved based on the impact of off-label use in real-life. We propose to reduce off-label use of vaccines by requiring the manufacturer to regularly adapt the label as much as possible to the public health needs as supported by new evidence. This would require manufacturers to collect and report post-marketing data, communicate them to all stakeholders and regulators to extrapolate existing evidence (when acceptable) to other groups or to other brands of a vaccine (class effect3). Regulatory authorities have a key role to play by requesting additional post-marketing data, e.g. in specific target groups. When public health recommendations for vaccine use that are outside labelled indications are considered necessary, good communication between regulatory bodies, public health authorities, companies and health care providers or vaccinators is crucial. Recommendations as well as labels and label changes should be evidence-based. The rationale for the discrepancy and the recommended off-label use of a vaccine should be communicated to providers.