An Important Point to Remember About Vaccine Effectiveness and Variants

Don’t get distracted by scary headlines

The new variants circulating around the world are concerning because some Covid-19 vaccines are not as effective against them.

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, for example, was 72% effective in the United States but only 64% effective in South Africa, where the more transmissible B.1.351 variant was first identified, according to a recent Food and Drug Administration analysis. Similarly, data from Novavax show that the vaccine was 90% effective in the U.K. but under 50% in South Africa.

These numbers suggest that some vaccines are not as protective against certain variants, and the concern is warranted. But as Craig Spencer MD MPH writes in , “the most important finding from the vaccine trials is usually overlooked in the scary headlines: all vaccines prevented hospitalizations and death — even with their decreased efficacy against those variants.” He points to evidence showing that the vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Moderna, Novavax, and Sputnik V confer 100% protection from death and hospitalizations.

“The takeaway is that the variants are certainly worth watching,” he writes. “But there is no guarantee they will outsmart our vaccines or drive a spike in cases in the U.S.”

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