Early vaccine and treatment trial data related to COVID reveals two takeaways: the breadth and speed with which researchers are generating this vital data, and the importance of understanding the diversity of patient responses in addition to basic endpoints about safety and efficacy. We need to understand for whom these treatments and vaccines work optimally in order to guide our thinking about how to deploy these life-saving technologies efficiently and effectively. Just for the record, I’m personally willing to wait for a vaccine in order for health care workers, the elderly and other vulnerable individuals to be served first. But we’d better have data that mirrors those subgroups so that the prioritization works. The same goes for any emerging treatments, because regardless of how much the pill or the injection costs, if it isn’t effective for some people due to their unique characteristics, then we’ve wasted the investment. Having representative data is also important so that everyone trusts the science enough to seek treatment.
This emphasis should transcend COVID research, frankly. Clinical trials, outcomes research, understanding patient experience and considering how to value healthcare must all acknowledge, incorporate and demonstrate relevance to our diverse population. This is long overdue and perhaps one silver lining of this pandemic is accelerated change in the research enterprise.