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Objectives: Year-to-year variation in respiratory viruses may result in lower attack rates than expected. We aimed to illustrate the impact of year-to-year variation in attack rates on the likelihood of demonstrating vaccine efficacy (VE). Study Design and Setting: We considered an individually randomized maternal vaccine trial against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-associated hospitalizations. For 10 RSV-associated hospitalizations per 1,000 infants, sample size to have 80% power for true VE of 50% and 70% was 9,846 and 4,424 participants. We reported power to show VE for varying attack rates, selected to reflect realistic year-to-year variation using observational studies. Eight scenarios including varying number of countries and seasons were developed to assess the influence of these trial parameters. Results: Including up to three seasons decreased the width of the interquartile range for power. Including more seasons concentrated statistical power closer to 80%. Least powered trials had higher statistical power with more seasons. In all scenarios, at least half of the trials had <80% power. For three-season trials, increasing the sample size by 10% reduced the percentage of underpowered trials to less than one-quarter of trials. Conclusion: Year-to-year variation in RSV attack rates should be accounted for during trial design. Mitigation strategies include recruiting over more seasons, or adaptive trial designs.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Clinical Epidemiology

Publication Date





11 - 20