Assessing trends in vaccine efficacy by pathogen genetic distance

  • David Benkeser Emory University
  • Michal Juraska Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
  • Peter B. Gilbert Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington


Preventive vaccines are an effective public health intervention for reducing the burden of infectious diseases, but have yet to be developed for several major infectious diseases. Vaccine sieve analysis studies whether and how the efficacy of a vaccine varies with the genetics of the infectious pathogen, which may help guide future vaccine development and deployment. A standard statistical approach to sieve analysis compares the effect of the vaccine to prevent infection and disease caused by pathogen types defined dichotomously as genetically near or far from a reference pathogen strain inside the vaccine construct. For example, near may be defined by amino acid identity at all amino acid positions considered in a multiple alignment and far defined by at least one amino acid difference. An alternative approach is to study the efficacy of the vaccine as a function of genetic distance from a pathogen to a reference vaccine strain where the distance cumulates over the set of amino acid positions. We propose a nonparametric method for estimating and testing the trend in the effect of a vaccine across genetic distance. We illustrate the operating characteristics of the estimator via simulation and apply the method to a recent preventive malaria vaccine efficacy trial.