How do they know if the Pfizer vaccine is 90% efficient?

Test it with 44,000 people of course

In July 2020, Pfizer and BioNTech initiated a late-stage clinical trial on a coronavirus vaccine. Half of the people got the (real) vaccine, while the other half got a placebo (a fake drug) of salt water. The companies then waited for people to get sick to determine if the vaccine offered any protection.

So far, 94 participants out of nearly 44,000 have gotten sick with Covid-19. An independent board of experts looked at how many of those people got the vaccine, and how many got the placebo. That early analysis suggests the vaccine is over 90 percent effective.

As is standard for clinical trials, the data was “blinded,” meaning that no one except the independent board — not the volunteers, doctors, or the company’s top executives — knows how many of the 94 people sickened by the virus got the vaccine or the placebo. Given the estimate that the vaccine is over 90 percent effective, however, we can safely assume very few people who were vaccinated got Covid-19.

What's a placebo?

A placebo is used in clinical trials to test the effectiveness of treatments and is most often used in drug studies. For instance, people in one group get the tested drug, while the others receive a fake drug, or placebo, that they think is the real thing.

Compare with other vaccines ...

The Food and Drug Administration had set a bar of 50 percent efficacy for vaccine makers who wanted to submit their candidates for emergency authorization. If the preliminary results from Pfizer and BioNTech bear out — and accurately reflect how the vaccine will work in the real world — then it’s far more protective than that.

To get a sense of how good these results are, it’s worth considering licensed vaccines that people regularly receive. On the low end, influenza vaccines are 40 to 60 percent effective at best, because the influenza virus keeps evolving into new forms year after year. By contrast, two doses of the measles vaccine are 97 percent effective.

Before you object against this vaccine, be informed what it actually is

Despite the distrust in vaccinations, especially this one, it's a good idea read how this COVID-19 vaccine is effective, and what this vaccine is different compared with the more conventional vaccines.

National lockdowns

Coona lockdown
Image by Ria Sopala from Pixabay

We live in a time that we need to make a choice. The coronavirus doesn't go away for a long time. When the governments closes down the society with the intention to bring down the coronavirus, this obviously doesn't work as intended. The damage of the national closures is far more harmful then the coronavirus itself. When the closure gets released, the coronavirus comes back as before, maybe even worse. And a gradual release of a lockdown doesn't help either, because the coronavirus continues its infections.

The only thing what a national closure does is to keep the number of infections under control. That's it. That means that when the society gets released from a closure, the infections will rise and another closure will follow. Together with the closures, depression, suicides, economical devastation, coronavirus infections, and despair will grow.

Different types of potential vaccines for COVID-19

  • Inactivated or weakened virus vaccines, which use a form of the virus that has been inactivated or weakened so it doesn’t cause disease, but still generates an immune response.
    An inactivated vaccine (or killed vaccine) is a vaccine consisting of virus particles, bacteria, or other pathogens that have been grown in culture and then lose disease producing capacity. In contrast, live vaccines use pathogens that are still alive (but are almost always attenuated, that is, weakened).
  • Protein-based vaccines, which use harmless fragments of proteins or protein shells that mimic the COVID-19 virus to safely generate an immune response.
    Most protein-based vaccines for Covid-19 employ recombinant versions of the spike protein (or parts of it), which tutors the immune system against wild virus. This works with an adjuvant, a compound that puts frontline immune cells on battle alert, thus mustering a robust immune response to the protein antigen.
  • Viral vector vaccines, which use a virus that has been genetically engineered so that it can’t cause disease, but produces coronavirus proteins to safely generate an immune response.
    Viral vectors are tools commonly used by molecular biologists to deliver genetic material into cells. This process can be performed inside a living organism or in cell culture. Viruses have evolved specialized molecular mechanisms to efficiently transport their genomes inside the cells they infect
  • RNA and DNA vaccines, a cutting-edge approach that uses genetically engineered RNA or DNA to generate a protein that itself safely prompts an immune response.
    DNA vaccines work by injecting genetically engineered plasmid containing the DNA sequence encoding the antigen(s) against which an immune response is sought, so the cells directly produce the antigen, thus causing a protective immunological response. The Pfizer vaccine is of this type.

For more and detailed information about the potential vaccinations, click here.

The choices

The theory with a pandemic is that people get infected with a virus until the majority of the population gets immune. That's called the herd immunity. There are three ways to reach the herd immunity:

  1. 60% of the population gets infected and is cured (after a couple of days), and thus are immune
  2. 60% of the population gets vaccinated, and thus immune
  3. A combination of number one and two

The alternative

The alternative is doing nothing, don't take the vaccine and let it go as it is ... as society. With other words, trying to reach the 60% herd immunity by getting infected with the coronavirus. That's possible of course. That means no coronavirus lockdowns anymore, the far majority of the population get infected and cured and will be immune for further infections.

  • This will take months, maybe even years. There are no guarantees how long this will take!
  • A small part of the population, who suffer from serious underlying diseases is at risk to die when infected!

Are things go back to normal after the vaccinations?

It will take many years before things are going back to normal. Why?

If we choose for vaccination to reach the herd immunity, we need to wait until everyone is vaccinated. As long as the vaccination program works, we're forced to social distancing, limited personal interactions, masks, closures, etc. And that means to wait till the second part of 2021, likely longer. In order to implement a national vaccination program, you need the resources to be able to do that, and there are not many countries in the world who have those resources.

For example, the UK vaccination program is likely to take many years to vaccinate the population in the UK.

The unknowns of the vaccines

  • The actual meaning of the 90% efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine is that 10% of the people get infected of the coronavirus, 90% not.
  • There is a difference between efficacy and effectiveness. Efficacy can be defined as the performance of an intervention under ideal and controlled circumstances, whereas effectiveness refers to its performance under 'real-world' conditions.
    • Meaning that the real-world results might be different then in their ideal and controlled circumstances in a large lab.

But there are many other questions still open and nobody knows the answer, yet. The answer of those questions influences the decisions if we can go back to normal.

  1. Can a vaccinated person carry the coronavirus and transfers the coronavirus to others? Nobody knows.
  2. How long will the vaccine work? Maybe a week, month? Maybe a year or longer? Maybe forever? Nobody knows.
  3. The coronavirus mutates. Each week there are new variations of the coronavirus. Does the current Pfizer vaccine cover or protect against those variations? Nobody knows.
  4. Are there complications or side effects with the Pfizer vaccine short, medium and long term? If yes, what impact will those side effects have on the total (global) population? Maybe we all turn purple after two years taking the vaccine. Nobody knows.

Here is the truth about if we can go back to normal in a couple of months:

  • As long as the above points (1-4) are not proven, we can't go back to normal.
  • If one of the above points proofs true, we can't go back to normal and we will live for many years under the corona related restrictions.

If a government (or scientist, doctor, specialist, politician) is saying otherwise, and they claim that everything can go back to normal in a couple of months, but be vaccinated, they lie.

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