What Does Pfizer’s Vaccine News Mean for the Coronavirus Pandemic? (Interview w/ Drs. Connor & Douam)

Original article from The Brink

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on, with the United States recently reaching a peak of more than 120,000 new cases in a single day, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon this week. Pfizer announced that early data from its coronavirus vaccine clinical trial shows that the vaccine is at least 90 percent effective in protecting against COVID-19 infections.

But while that certainly places Pfizer squarely in the lead amidst the race to develop COVID-19 vaccines, its trial is not yet completed and the scientific data was not released alongside the announcement about its vaccine’s projected efficacy.

The Brink asked two experts at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) for their take on the news, and what it means for curbing the pandemic. According to coronavirus researchers John Connor, a NEIDL virologist and a School of Medicine associate professor, and Florian Douam, a NEIDL microbiologist and a MED assistant professor, even the promise of Pfizer’s vaccine doesn’t mean a quick fix to the pandemic is around the corner.


With John Connor and Florian Douam

The Brink: What were your thoughts upon hearing the news that Pfizer’s vaccine preliminarily looks to be 90 percent effective?

Connor: As it is stated, this is a very encouraging number. The more I think about it though, the more information I feel is not offered. Is it 90 percent effective in those at highest risk? If it is 100 percent effective in healthy individuals with no health complications, and 40 percent in the elderly and those with health complications, I am not so impressed. If it is 90 percent effective across all populations tested, then I am truly excited.

I am also curious about how long they think this 90 percent protective number holds following vaccination. If protection against infection holds for a year then this is super exciting. If protection against infection lasts for six weeks or three months, much less exciting.

Douam: I think it is definitely a good news, but I would not declare victory yet. The announcement was made on the news, and we have yet to see the actual data in scientific journals. Especially, I would want to see how racially/ethnically/socially diverse is the vaccinated population that shows [the vaccine has] 90 percent effective protection. Additionally, we have to be aware that 90 percent figure could still change, as the trial is not over.

So, I am optimistic but I still remain cautious. Another point is that although 90 percent is definitely a great start to bend the pandemic, we will need to refine this vaccine over time to increase effectiveness, ideally up to 95 percent. For a pandemic of this scale, where hundreds of millions will have to be vaccinated, leaving 10 percent of people unprotected is a lot.

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