Clinical Outcomes Of A COVID-19 Vaccine: Implementation Over Efficacy

Health Affairs
Vol. 40, No. 1 January 2021


Research Article COVID-19
Clinical Outcomes Of A COVID-19 Vaccine: Implementation Over Efficacy
A. David Paltiel, Jason L. Schwartz, Amy Zheng, and Rochelle P. Walensky
Free Access
The global effort to develop a coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine is on track to produce one or more authorized vaccines. We examine how different definitions and thresholds of vaccine efficacy, coupled with different levels of implementation effectiveness and background epidemic severity, translate into outcomes including cumulative infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. Using a mathematical simulation of vaccination, we find that factors related to implementation will contribute more to the success of vaccination programs than a vaccine’s efficacy as determined in clinical trials. The benefits of a vaccine will decline substantially in the event of manufacturing or deployment delays, significant vaccine hesitancy, or greater epidemic severity. Our findings demonstrate the urgent need for health officials to invest greater financial resources and attention to vaccine production and distribution programs, to redouble efforts to promote public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, and to encourage continued adherence to other mitigation approaches, even after a vaccine becomes available.