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They were unsure about the utility of the vaccine given its expected duration.

Does the part "given its expected duration" modify vaccine or is it another kind of grammar structure?

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  • Duration seems an odd choice of wording, if shelf life is what's meant, otherwise it might be understood to mean how long the vaccine remains in the host. – Peter May 7 '17 at 2:42
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The part "given its expected duration" is a domain adjunct, and this is realised by a Preposition Phrase headed by the head preposition - "given".

You asked what this adjunct modify. Obviously, it doesn't modify "vaccine" as you thought. Rather, I would say, it does the whole sentence.

Within the domain created by the adjunct, they are unsure about the utility of the vaccine. In other domains they might not be unsure about the vaccine's utility. For example, the vaccine might be effective enough, and they are sure about it. But it's effective for a shorter duration. So considering the fact that the effectiveness in for a short time, they are unsure about the utility of the vaccine. But when they consider the effectiveness, they are not unsure about the utility of the vaccine.

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