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Importance: Adverse events (AEs) after placebo treatment are common in randomized clinical drug trials. Systematic evidence regarding these nocebo responses in vaccine trials is important for COVID-19 vaccination worldwide especially because concern about AEs is reported to be a reason for vaccination hesitancy. Objective: To compare the frequencies of AEs reported in the placebo groups of COVID-19 vaccine trials with those reported in the vaccine groups. Data Sources: For this systematic review and meta-analysis, the Medline (PubMed) and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) databases were searched systematically using medical subheading terms and free-text keywords for trials of COVID-19 vaccines published up to July 14, 2021. Study Selection: Randomized clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines that investigated adults aged 16 years or older were selected if they assessed solicited AEs within 7 days of injection, included an inert placebo arm, and provided AE reports for both the vaccine and placebo groups separately. Full texts were reviewed for eligibility by 2 independent reviewers. Data Extraction and Synthesis: Data extraction and quality assessment were performed independently by 2 reviewers, adhering to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) guideline and using the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool. Meta-analyses were based on random-effects models. Main Outcomes and Measures: The primary outcomes were the proportions of placebo recipients reporting overall, systemic, and local (injection-site) AEs as well as logarithmic odds ratios (ORs) to evaluate group differences. Outcomes were tested for significance using z tests with 95% CIs. Results: Twelve articles with AE reports for 45380 participants (22578 placebo recipients and 22802 vaccine recipients) were analyzed. After the first dose, 35.2% (95% CI, 26.7%-43.7%) of placebo recipients experienced systemic AEs, with headache (19.3%; 95% CI, 13.6%-25.1%) and fatigue (16.7%; 95% CI, 9.8%-23.6%) being most common. After the second dose, 31.8% (95% CI, 28.7%-35.0%) of placebo recipients reported systemic AEs. The ratio between placebo and vaccine arms showed that nocebo responses accounted for 76.0% of systemic AEs after the first COVID-19 vaccine dose and for 51.8% after the second dose. Significantly more vaccine recipients reported AEs, but the group difference for systemic AEs was small after the first dose (OR, -0.47; 95% CI, -0.54 to -0.40; P
Haas, J. W., Bender, F. L., Ballou, S., Kelley, J. M., Wilhelm, M., Miller, F. G., … Kaptchuk, T. J. (2022). Frequency of Adverse Events in the Placebo Arms of COVID-19 Vaccine Trials: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open. American Medical Association. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.43955