Social Complexity of a Fentanyl Vaccine to Prevent Opioid Overdose

March 2022

Elissa R. Weitzman, Harvard Medical School

This exploratory seminar will bring together scholars from diverse disciplines to identify framing issues for advancing a novel fentanyl vaccine to prevent opioid overdose. Proactive attention to the complex landscape of social issues that are involved in advancing a fentanyl vaccine may clarify the potential for benefit and harm and provide guidance to the vaccine development process. The US National Institutes of Health are supporting research to develop opioid overdose preventing vaccines, including a vaccine to prevent fentanyl overdose. A Radcliffe Exploratory Seminar will provide an important opportunity to consider issues that bear on vaccine development and acceptability.

Through this seminar, we will sharpen understanding of issues that may affect the design and ultimately use of a fentanyl overdose preventing vaccine with the goal of sparking inquiry, scholarship, and best practices to maximize benefit and minimize harm, discussing the following issues:

  1. strategies for advancing a vaccine approach without undermining attention to “root causes” of substance use and risk for overdose;
  2. lessons from past vaccine and public health campaigns to lessen the risks of discrimination and stigma arising from vaccination;
  3. vaccine decision-making in light of questions about pain management and treatment;
  4. organizational issues relevant to eligibility (including for youth), access, delivery, and distribution of a fentanyl vaccine, and concern for comprehensive approaches to addressing substance use disorder, and principles of justice and non-coercion;
  5. communications and consent with a special focus on adolescent/young adult vaccine decision-making;
  6. navigating the fraught landscape of vaccine misinformation, and gaps in trust and confidence.