Vaccinate the world, say Oxford vaccine trial participants

19 October 2021

National pride in the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine does not outweigh desire for global greater good, suggests study with trial participants

Participants in the clinical trial that led to the success of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 are proud of the UK’s achievement and believe the vaccine should be a shared global good. In a study published today in BMJ Global Health researchers reveal that the volunteers who put their bodies on the line to test the safety and efficacy of the vaccine wanted to end the pandemic globally. They spoke about helping the most vulnerable and where need was the greatest during interviews conducted between September and November 2020.

“Before COVID-19 most people would not have heard of ‘vaccine nationalism’. Now it is a key topic of media attention and academic commentary that global access to vaccines has been limited by the monopolisation of doses by high-income countries,” said Dr Samantha Vanderslott, Social Sciences Researcher at the Oxford Vaccine Group and Oxford Martin Programme on Collective Responsibility for Infectious Disease.

“Much of the focus has been on the vaccine supply ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, but the voices of public opinion have been more limited. To understand this more we surveyed and interviewed participants in the Oxford-AstraZeneca clinical trial about their views, motivations, and experiences of taking part in the trial.” said Dr Kate Emary, Research Fellow at the Oxford Vaccine Group.

Results shows that participants did feel conflicted about how the resulting successful vaccine would be used. They hoped that the UK would receive the vaccine first, often due to the use of taxpayer money and local facilities and talent - some admitted that they just wanted their lives to go back to normal. However, this did not mean the lives of others elsewhere in the world felt less important to them. Participants spoke very strongly about their hopes that that they were doing their part for the most vulnerable across the world, not just the UK.

“I think it should just go to globally whoever’s going to benefit from it the most… I think it should be key workers around the world, the people that need it the most around the world,” said one participant.
Another agreed, “the idealist bit of me would just want a global approach to [the vaccine rollout] really, because that’s the only way we’re going to solve [the pandemic] properly.”

“We found that trial participants were immensely proud of the UK origins of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and the scientific achievement it represents,” said Dr Vanderslott. “The nationalistic rhetoric that surrounded vaccine development fed into the conception of the resultant vaccine belonging to the UK and gave it a national character. This complicates cooperative and internationalist thinking and made it more difficult for the vaccine to be seen as a global public good. Despite this, trial participants maintained a global outlook on the pandemic and were highly supportive of prioritisation by need. Public support is key to ensuring that global equitable vaccine access is achieved. This study shows that the support is there if governments and the pharmaceutical industry are willing to listen.”

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine trials and director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said, “Initiatives like COVAX and the G7’s pledge of 1bn vaccine doses for poorer countries reflect the ambitions we have seen from vaccine trial participants in this study, and from the public statements of those involved in vaccine development. We need to internationalise COVID-19 vaccines and get them to the places and people than need them most. However, the reality is that the outcomes in practice are still falling far short of the vision. More than 95% of people in low-income countries are yet to receive their first dose, meanwhile some high-income nations are offering ‘booster shots’ to the fully vaccinated.”

‘Vaccine nationalism and internationalism: perspectives of COVID-19 vaccine trial participants in the United Kingdom’ is published in BMJ Global Health. It explores the concepts of vaccine nationalism and internationalism from the perspective of vaccine trial participants, using an empirical perspectives study that involved interviews with phase I/II COVID-19 vaccine trial participants in Oxford, UK.

Notes to editors

This study is part of a large empirical study ‘COVQUAL’, which involved the surveying and semi-structured interviews with participants in COV001, a phase I/II Vaccine trial in Oxford, UK of the novel COVID-19 vaccine ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (NCT04324606) (31). This study is based on 349 online survey responses and semi-structured interviews with 102 participants recruited from a purposeful sample of 770 healthy volunteers aged 18–55 years who were enrolled in COV001 and gave consent to be contacted about further research. We included no other additional criteria – e.g. for demographic constitution of the sample.
The survey was sent in September 2020, and interviews conducted between 18th September and 30th October 2020 by a team of 11 researchers (one social scientist, one public engagement manager, three clinicians, two research nurses and four medical students). Interviews took between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours to complete.

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