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 writes in Elemental, “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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