Earlier this week we looked at the curious questions arising from the preliminary data released by AstraZeneca regarding their new vaccine. The 79% efficacy rating they cited looked pretty good, though not as good as the grand slam numbers put up by Pfizer and Moderna. (It was still at least as good as J&J, though.) But medical authorities were unhappy with the data AstraZeneca released, calling it “incomplete.” That caused a bit of a dustup in the press, so now the pharmaceutical giant has turned in even more data. This time, the overall efficacy rate dropped, but only by a few points. So does this mean the controversy is over? (NBC News)
AstraZeneca said Wednesday that results from a primary analysis of U.S. trial data show its vaccine is 76 percent effective against symptomatic Covid-19.
Earlier this week, the company announced an efficacy rate of 79 percent after an interim analysis.
Federal health officials questioned the higher rate, saying that AstraZeneca may have included “outdated information.” AstraZeneca responded to the criticism by saying that it was working on more up-to-date information and that the more recent findings are consistent with its initial announcement that the vaccine offered strong protection.
I’ll blame the fact that I have no medical training or experience on my failure to fully comprehend how this turned into such a controversy. All of the clinical trials for these vaccines are overseen by a “data and safety monitoring board,” or DSMB. In the case of AstraZeneca, the DSMB seemed to be a bit blunt, if not unprofessional, when they reviewed the company’s data and literally accused them of “cherry-picking” the numbers to make their product look better.
AstraZeneca’s response didn’t initially seem any less confusing to the laymen trying to follow this story. They said that the latest set of numbers showed that their product has 76% efficacy, but it is “100 percent effective in preventing severe and fatal cases.” How can something be both 76% and 100% effective simultaneously? As it turns out, those numbers mean that if you receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, there should be a nearly zero percent chance that you will contract the virus and wind up either dying or going on a ventilator. But there is a roughly 25% chance that you could still contract the virus while experiencing milder symptoms.
That really doesn’t sound all that bad. And yet, the press trotted out Dr. Fauci again this week to ask about the data kerfuffle. He described the release of the preliminary data showing 79% efficacy as an “unforced error.” All of these experts are talking about a difference between the preliminary and final data as if it was some significant failure. But does it really amount to that much of a difference? The odds are that by the time this vaccine gets approved we’re probably not even going to need it in the United States. We can still send a bunch of it to Mexico, though, to make good on Joe Biden’s deal that is absolutely not a “deal” in any sense of the word.
The bottom line here, at least for me, is that our betters in the media, along with federal health officials, seem to be breaking their own rules. We’ve been repeatedly told not to succumb to the temptation to “shop around” for the best vaccine or try to compare them. Fauci has said this himself repeatedly. We’re just supposed to take whichever one is available as soon as our turn comes up. But this week, Fauci, the DSMB, and most of the cable news outlets have been instilling distrust in AstraZeneca. That’s the last thing they need after the PR beating they’ve taken in Europe over fears of blood clots or rumored low efficacy rates. Honestly, if you are on the waiting list for a shot (as many people still are) and they called to say you can come down to get the AstraZeneca vaccine, would you go or just wait until a new shipment of Pfizer or Moderna arrives? I’m guessing that plenty of people will be going for the latter option after witnessing this week’s debate over the company’s data.