There has been much excitement and some confusion about the new Covid-19 vaccines. For the record, I plan to get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as it is offered to me, which may be in the next few months, as a healthcare provider who works with some vulnerable populations.
Regarding the Pfizer vaccine, which we are already planning on rolling out at the University of Rochester for our frontline providers, the data is quite impressive. In a study of over 40,000 people and with complete data of over 35,000, it appears clear that the vaccine is effective (more than 90% effective, in fact, with only eight cases in the vaccine group, and 162 in the placebo group). I think the bigger question on a lot of people’s minds is safety. Again, the vaccine performed well with some expected side effects (injection site pain) and possibly a higher than average rate of self-limited flu-like symptoms. There were no serious adverse events related to the vaccine. If you are interested in seeing the data being presented to the FDA yourself please check it out here.
I spoke to a friend who is involved in overseeing vaccine distribution at the University of Rochester. He reports that the flu-like symptoms are definitely real, and that they are expecting some people could even miss a day of work because of these symptoms. However, he, like me, sees the potential benefits as far outweighing the risks. He also shared with me that at other hospitals, up to 40% of healthcare workers say they would opt out of getting the vaccine. This was surprising to both of us. Digging deeper into this, it seems that the concern is that because the vaccine was developed so quickly, we don’t really know if its safe (citation here). Although the study was done quickly, it was a very large study, and also well done. While it is still possible that there may be side effects we don’t yet know about, they would need to be very rare (far under 1%) or would have to be delayed by more than two months, as this was the minimum time participants in the trial were tracked. Both of these possibilities seem very unlikely given what we know about vaccines. Importantly, these risks are also significantly lower that the very real and much more likely dangers of Covid-19 to individuals and society.