Four and a half years have passed since teenage girls and young women were invited to take part in two contentious clinical trials, ranging from the Vaccine for Austrialian Children (VAC) in which Victorian pregnant women were injected with whooping cough vaccine to England’s French Flu Trial.
Within a couple of weeks of sending out invitations to mothers in Melbourne and Sydney for an international trial, researchers from the University of Queensland shared the news that they were re-totalling the data from the trial following overwhelming criticism of the new double blind and placebo controlled study. Now nearly seven years after the trials began, there is still no definitive answer to the age, sex, ethnicity, duration of exposure, strain or incidence levels of childhood tetanus/whooping cough.
But despite the uncertainty, the fact that the epidemiologists who ran these trials are still working on analysing the data and continuously improving the odds, provides yet another example of how public health and health research organisations need to look at their own systems differently, says Dr Teresa Barrow, Research Chair in International Health at La Trobe University.
“While scientific procedure will always fail in some instances, it is unrealistic to expect to predict with absolute certainty that some scientific study, trial or policy issue is going to go according to plan,” says Dr Barrow.
“However, we can recognise that the quality and professionalism of a group is the most significant indicator of the clinical outcomes associated with a research plan. That’s why decisions in the UK, New Zealand and Australia about the conduct of child protection trials must be looked at with great care,” she says.
“These are not arbitrary political decisions, but rather sound and sensible decisions based on our understanding of how national health laws should be framed for child protection.”