In a letter published in the British Medical Journal, I discuss the topic of how we assess the long-term safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccination. Vaccines for COVID-19 were eagerly awaited; and their rapid development, testing, approval and implementation are a tremendous achievement by all: scientists, pharmaceutical companies, drugs regulators, politicians and healthcare professionals; and by the patients who have received them. Early real-world data from vaccine recipients in England, Scotland and Israel show that vaccination provides a high level of protection from symptomatic COVID-19 infection and serious illness, along with a large reduction in the risk of hospital admissions and death.
However, because these vaccines are new, we do not yet have information on how long the immunity generated by COVID-19 vaccines will last; or on how well they will protect against new variants of SARS-CoV-2. Longitudinal data on ‘vaccine failures’, or re-infections can help guide national policies on how frequently booster doses of vaccines are needed to maintain a good level of immunity in the population, and on whether vaccines need modification to provide protection against new variants of SARS-CoV-2.
The UK is well-placed to collect these data and to secure its timely evaluation and integration with information provided by its strong life sciences research industry, to guide public health decision making. We also have a National Health Service that has developed computerised medical records for use in general practices on a population of around 67 million people. These electronic medical records provide longitudinal data on people’s health and medical experiences and can be used to estimate the longer-term efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. This will provide a valuable resource, not just for guiding public health policy in the UK, but also for global health.
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2. Majeed A, Papaluca M, Molokhia M. Assessing the long-term safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. May 2021. doi:10.1177/01410768211013437
3. Hodes S, Majeed A. Building a sustainable infrastructure for covid-19 vaccinations long term BMJ 2021; 373 :n1578 doi:10.1136/bmj.n1578