Distinguishing Immunologic and Behavioral Effects of Vaccination

Mats J. Stensrud, Daniel Nevo, Uri Obolski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The interpretation of vaccine efficacy estimands is subtle, even in randomized trials designed to quantify the immunologic effects of vaccination. In this article, we introduce terminology to distinguish between different vaccine efficacy estimands and clarify their interpretations. This allows us to explicitly consider the immunologic and behavioral effects of vaccination, and establish that policy-relevant estimands can differ substantially from those commonly reported in vaccine trials. We further show that a conventional vaccine trial allows the identification and estimation of different vaccine estimands under plausible conditions if one additional post-treatment variable is measured. Specifically, we utilize a “belief variable” that indicates the treatment an individual believed they had received. The belief variable is similar to “blinding assessment” variables that are occasionally collected in placebo-controlled trials in other fields. We illustrate the relations between the different estimands, and their practical relevance, in numerical examples based on an influenza vaccine trial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-163
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2024


  • Blinding
  • Causal inference
  • Expectancy
  • Placebo
  • Randomized controlled trials
  • Vaccine efficacy

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Epidemiology


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