Two small vaccine vials against a blue-grey background

Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

From the New England Journal of Medicine, a truly astonishing and encouraging analysis of the real-world effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against variants of concern in Qatar.

The main points:

  • In Qatar during the study period (February 23 – March 18), 50.0% of documented cases of Covid-19 were caused by B.1.351 and 44.5% by B.1.1.7.
  • 14 or more days after the second dose, estimated effectiveness of the vaccine against infection with the B.1.1.7 variant was 89.5% and against the B.1.351 variant was 75.0%
  • Vaccine effectiveness against severe, critical, or fatal disease due to any variety of SARS-CoV-2 was 97.4%

The study doesn’t address P.1—the Brazilian variant—but I’m not aware of evidence that P.1 is significantly more infectious or more deadly than B.1.351. Certainly its escape from naturally-acquired neutralising antibodies in lab tests is similar to that of B.1.351 (both have the Eek mutation) and, equally certainly, as of mid-March this year P.1 was not outcompeting B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants in Qatar. So right now I’m cautiously optimistic that the Pfizer vaccine is overwhelmingly effective against variants in the real world.

Given that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use essentially the same mechanism, and that their efficacy in trials were so similar, I’m confident that both mRNA vaccines are equally effective.

So, take a moment. Absorb this news: Once you’re fully vaccinated with a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine you have a not-far-from-100% guarantee that you won’t end up in hospital or die with Covid-19.

Take another moment and just fucking marvel! This might be the closest thing to a miracle any of us will ever experience.

Given the latest report from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) this miracle comes not a moment too soon. IHMA estimates that the real number of Covid-19 deaths vastly outnumber official figures:

  • 6.9m deaths worldwide
  • 905,000 deaths in the US
  • 655,000 deaths in India (nearly triple the official number)

The pandemic is far from over. Only a tiny percentage of the world’s population has been vaccinated, cases are accelerating, and therefore the chance is increasing that a variant will emerge that does evade the current vaccines. Here in the US, the richest and most privileged country on earth, many people are not yet vaccinated—in addition, so many fools are refusing vaccination that their communities will very likely become breeding grounds of infection and therefore variants.* Who knows, perhaps it will be that pretty little town of apple and cherry orchards and smiling tourists that will become ground zero not only of a new variant of concern but a variant of high consequence. That’s when the story changes.

So go get your jabs, people. Then venture out in the bright wide world and laugh and play for a while. We are lucky.


* Here in Washington State the vast majority of current cases (over 75%) are now B.1.1.7 variant, with P.1 variant increasing particularly among younger adults, a demographic who only recently became eligible for vaccination.