Short story: vaccines work. Data from Israel’s rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, conducted in a broad campaign, show that this one works quickly as well. Just the first shot alone cuts transmission risk significantly, with estimates ranging from 33% to 60%. It’s precisely the impact one would hope to see from a vaccine in a pandemic, but until now hadn’t yet been quantified.
This calls into question the currently slow rollout of vaccinations to the masses:
Initial data from Israel’s vaccination campaign shows that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine curbs infections by some 50 percent 14 days after the first of two shots is administered, a top Health Ministry official said Tuesday, as the country’s serious COVID-19 cases, daily infections and total active cases all reach all-time peaks.
Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, told Channel 12 News that the data was preliminary, and based on the results of coronavirus tests among both those who’ve received the vaccine and those who haven’t.
Other, somewhat contrary data was released by Israeli health maintenance organizations Tuesday evening. Channel 13 News said that according to figures released by Clalit, Israel’s largest health provider, the chance of a person being infected with the coronavirus dropped by 33% 14 days after they were vaccinated. Separate figures recorded by the Maccabi health provider and aired by Channel 12 showed the vaccine caused a 60% drop in the chances for infection 14 days after taking the first shot.
As noted, Israel’s transmission rates haven’t shown the full impact of this phenomenon, but the news is encouraging nonetheless. It suggests that broad vaccination programs would greatly slow the rate of community transmission nearly immediately, and that the second shot would all but stamp it out if given out widely enough. Israel has only gotten to 20% of its population with the first shot, which is a lot farther than the US has managed, but Israel’s population is a lot smaller and more concentrated, too.
The lesson here is to get as many people vaccinated with their first shot as possible. Perhaps the CDC took a look at the Israeli data in making their policy change yesterday, but that appears to have been more about the perverse incentives of the stricter rollout regime they first promulgated. That led to the destruction of doses to avoid draconian penalties for outside-the-rules vaccinations, an outcome that is not just infuriating but entirely counterproductive. Now New York is dismantling those perverse incentives, at least in terms of inoculating seniors and those with serious co-morbidities, but only after enormous public backlash over the ridiculous outcomes of their heavy-handed enforcement.
This still might be too restrictive a plan. If we want to drive down transmission rates in order to fully reopen our economies, we need to get entire populations inoculated quickly. That means getting supply and distribution issues resolved, of course, but the better plan might be to hand those doses off to existing private-sector distribution channels and let them go fully first-come, first-served. Let Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Target, and other pharmacies get it from the manufacturer into enough arms to seriously bend the curve downward. That will help protect the vulnerable too by making COVID-19 less apparent in the population, perhaps as soon as a week or two after a serious and broad rollout begins.
Let’s get it done. Quickly.