Two studies from Israel provide the first evidence that COVID-19 vaccines may prevent coronavirus infection.
That would mean the vaccines help stop transmission of the virus from person to person, which could lead to life returning to normal even sooner.
In the first study, researchers from Chaim Sheba Medical Centre compared healthcare workers who had been immunized with the Pfizer vaccine with those who had not. The vaccine was 75% effective at preventing both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 at 15 to 28 days after the first dose.
The study was published in the British medical journal the Lancet but has yet to be peer-reviewed.
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The second study, by Pfizer and the Israeli Health Ministry, has been neither peer-reviewed nor even officially published. Rather, a draft of the study was leaked on Twitter. Neither Pfizer nor the Israeli Health Ministry would comment on the study, but a source familiar with the study confirmed it to Bloomberg News.
It found that the vaccine was over 89% effective at preventing infections.
However, “the main result overstates the reduction in transmission from the Pfizer vaccine,” Zoe McLaren told Bloomberg. McLaren, an associate professor in the school of public policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, noted that the efficacy is likely inflated since the study relied on national testing data. That data may undercount infections among people who have vaccinated since such people are less likely to get tested for COVID-19.
Still, McLaren was optimistic.
“But I expect that, once we account for the bias, we’ll still find that this vaccine does reduce transmission. And that would be very good news,” she said.
If the vaccine does prevent actual infection, it might mean that life in the United States could get back to normal sooner rather than later. Experts disagree on when that might be.
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, “We don’t know,” when asked on CNN when the U.S. would reach normalcy. But he suggested that mask-wearing might have to continue into 2022.
Herd immunity will be key to achieving normalcy. Depending on the estimate, herd immunity to the coronavirus is thought to be when 60% to 80% of the population have either been infected or vaccinated.
Data scientist Youyang Gu suggests that the U.S. won’t reach herd immunity in 2021 due to hesitancy among a substantial portion of the population to get vaccinated. Gu has argued that the focus should not be on herd immunity but rather on vaccinating enough people that hospitals will no longer be in danger of being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.
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COVID-19 cases have dropped precipitously in the U.S. in recent weeks.