The hits keep coming. Last week an Israeli health-care provider looked at more than half a million patients (many of whom were over 60) who’d received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine. Grand total: Four severe cases and zero deaths from COVID. “No vaccine is perfect,” scientists like to remind us, which is fair enough.
But some are close.
Another Israeli provider released its own data today of a massive study it conducted to gauge how effective the vaccine was in preventing symptomatic cases of the disease. Clalit, an HMO, compared 600,000 people who’d received both shots to 600,000 people who didn’t, matching them as best as they could to ensure that factors like preexisting comorbidities didn’t affect the results. What they found was, well, close to perfect:
The inoculated group produced 94 percent fewer symptomatic COVID-19 cases, and 92 percent fewer cases of serious illness.
The vaccine, the study found, was equally effective for all age groups, including people aged 70 and older – a group for which Pfizer’s clinical trials had not produced conclusive data, as too few people of this age participated…
The study found that the vaccine is between 91 and 99 percent effectiveness against serious illness seven days after the second dose. But the researchers said they expected the effectiveness to rise after 14 days.
You know what would be nice? It’d be nice if our media processed those numbers and stopped writing anti-vax propaganda like this, in which it’s supposed to be newsworthy that a handful of people who’ve gotten both doses later tested positive for COVID. (And had mild or no symptoms!) That’s not surprising; at least two members of Congress have also tested positive after being fully vaccinated. A vaccine that’s 94 percent effective is, by definition, not 100 percent effective — although, crucially, it does appear close to 100 percent effective in preventing the only thing anyone really cares about, which is severe illness and death. Imagine if we could go back in time and vaccinate everyone last March. If the result of that effort were, say, a million people testing positive over the course of 2020 and maybe only a few hundred of them dying, would we consider that a vaccine failure or a stupendous vaccine success?
Israel’s done a good enough job getting its senior citizens vaccinated that its begun to experience an unprecedented demographic shift among serious cases of the disease:
According to Health Ministry data, almost 75% of people diagnosed over the weekend were under 40 years old, while only around 7% over 60…
Of the serious cases, 38% were under the age of 60. Last week, only around 34% of cases were younger people. At the peak of the third wave, around January 20, it was only 26%.
This constitutes a 53% increase in the number of serious cases under the age of 60 in the last month.
The rise in serious cases among younger adults unfortunately isn’t a pure artifact of older Israelis being vaccinated en masse. It’s now believed that the highly contagious and possibly more lethal British variant has become the dominant strain in the country, leading to worse outcomes even among relatively healthy demographics. It’s bad enough that, despite its huge vaccination effort, Israel’s daily cases per capita remain higher than the UK’s (and America’s):
God only knows what cases, hospitalizations, and daily deaths would have looked like there among senior citizens if the UK strain had arrived before the vaccine initiative had begun.
As for the U.S. effort, read this piece by Noah Smith about how much better the overall U.S. vaccination program has been than the rest of the world’s. We’re behind Israel, but that’s the only major country we’re trailing; as Smith points out, the UK is ahead of us per capita on first doses but not on second ones, which could be important if the South African variant starts spreading in both countries. (That strain has already begun reinfecting people who’ve recovered from common COVID.) The Pfizer vaccine does generate a substantial immune response to the South African virus, Smith notes — but only after two doses, not one. Meanwhile, the rolling average of daily doses administered in the U.S. has reached its highest point, at 1.7 million. And if a new variant suddenly arises that requires a new vaccine to protect us from it, it’ll be two American companies, Moderna and Pfizer (in partnership with a German outfit), that address that challenge before the rest of the industry does thanks to their innovative mRNA vaccines.
Here’s the vice president minimizing those achievements by insisting that the U.S. basically started from scratch after Biden took office, a proposition Anthony Fauci explicitly discredited a few weeks ago.
— Axios (@axios) February 14, 2021