Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Covid-19 vaccine trial protocols released

Covid-19 vaccine: we are sleepwalking into a massive prospective cohort study

BMJ 2020; 371 doi: (Published 24 November 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;371:m4568
  1. Hamish Duncan, GP
  1. Pinhoe Surgery, Exeter EX1 3SY, UK
  1. hamish.duncan{at}

I was delighted to finally read some sensible journalistic challenges to the matters surrounding a covid-19 vaccine.1 I waited for further probing articles in the medical and national press, hoping there would be a genuine discussion on the many unanswered questions surrounding a vaccine.

The headlong rush towards a vaccine is unseemly for a profession which must first do no harm. We have a duty of care to uphold, which includes asking tough questions. Of course we all want to be part of the solution and hope that a vaccine is forthcoming, safe, and effective, but sleepwalking into what is essentially a massive prospective cohort study seems a cavalier approach. We are being asked to sign up to give a vaccine to our trusting patients that currently does not exist, does not have anywhere near full data available, has questionable end points, and was created from new methodology with no comparative long term outcome data (understandably acceptable in the current climate, to a degree).

Of course I hope a vaccine works. Do I have faith in Big Pharma’s altruism, even in a pandemic? Did thalidomide work well for morning sickness? The cautionary tale from history should inspire us to be as honest as possible with the public about what we do and do not know before agreeing to deliver the vaccine, as that delivery will imply to our patients that we believe it to be safe.


  • Competing interests: None declared.


View Abstract

Log in

Log in through your institution


* For online subscription