Estimating vaccine efficacy against transmission via effect on viral load

Epidemiology. 2021 Aug 30. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000001415. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Determining policies to end the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic will require an understanding of the efficacy and effectiveness (hereafter, efficacy) of vaccines. Beyond the efficacy against severe disease and symptomatic and asymptomatic infection, understanding vaccine efficacy against virus transmission, including efficacy against transmission of different viral variants, will help model epidemic trajectory and determine appropriate control measures. Recent studies have proposed using random virologic testing in individual randomized controlled trials to improve estimation of vaccine efficacy against infection. We propose to further use the viral load measures from these tests to estimate efficacy against transmission. This estimation requires a model of the relationship between viral load and transmissibility and assumptions about the vaccine effect on transmission and the progress of the epidemic. We describe these key assumptions, potential violations of them, and solutions that can be implemented to mitigate these violations. Assessing these assumptions and implementing this random sampling, with viral load measures, will enable better estimation of the crucial measure of vaccine efficacy against transmission.