Tanya Lewis: Hi, welcome to COVID, fast, Scientific american Podcast series!
Josh Fischman: This is your quick update on the COVID pandemic. We take you quickly to understand the science behind the most pressing issues related to viruses and diseases. We uncover the mystery of research and help you understand its true meaning.
Lewis: This is Tanya Lewis.
Fishman: This is Josh Fischman.
Lewis: And we Scientific americanSenior health editor. Today, we’re talking about the FDA’s approval of Pfizer’s vaccine…
Fishman: And whether the new report on breakthrough infection means that the vaccine is losing its effectiveness.
Lewis: And what you need to know about the vaccine booster.
Fishman: This week, the US Food and Drug Administration (Food and Drug Administration) fully approved Pfizer’s vaccine for use in people 16 years and older. This allows the lens to go beyond the initial state of emergency use, making it like any approved drug or vaccine. Tanya, will this firm recognition affect the vaccination rate?
Lewis: This may affect them in many ways. More and more government agencies, cities and enterprises have begun to implement vaccine tasks. For example, the US military has established an authorization for all active military personnel; New York City requires all Department of Education teachers and staff to be vaccinated; and many colleges and universities are also performing tasks.
Another big question is whether the FDA approval will affect anyone who is hesitant about the vaccine. In this regard, this may be an uphill battle. Although some people said that lack of FDA approval was the main reason they did not get the vaccine, others cited distrust of the government and other concerns. Now that the FDA has stamped the vaccine for official approval, these concerns are unlikely to magically disappear.
Time will tell whether approval will have a significant impact on vaccination rates. However, at present, the rapid spread of the Delta variant seems to be pushing many of the hardest-hit states to increase vaccination.
Lewis: When the virus infects people who are fully vaccinated, we keep hearing more about “breakthrough infections.” But that doesn’t mean that the vaccine no longer works, does it Josh?
Fishman: The vaccine is still effective, Tanya, we have some new data to support this. Some celebrities tested positive even if they were vaccinated. This has always been the headline news. For example, the U.S. Senator last Wednesday.
When these stories appear in groups, the impression given to people is that the vaccine is losing its protection. The true story is different.
These vaccines have never provided perfect protection. For example, even in clinical trials, Pfizer reported that out of approximately 20,000 people, 8 were infected. But 162 people in the unvaccinated test group were infected with the disease, and more than that.
With the highly spreading delta variant now dominated by new cases, these numbers have changed a bit, but good vaccine protection models still exist. This week, the CDC reported 43,000 infections in the Los Angeles area from May to the end of July. About 70% of them are people who have not been vaccinated. Approximately 25% are fully vaccinated people. Therefore, although there are more infections than we have seen in clinical trials, vaccinated people are still nearly 3 times more likely to reject the virus than unvaccinated people.
When it comes to people who are sick enough to require hospitalization and intensive care, the power of vaccines is obvious. 7.5% of unvaccinated people must be hospitalized. Only about 3% of vaccinators are like this. Therefore, the vaccine prevents you from being discharged from the hospital and is twice as likely to control the virus in a mild disease state.
Oregon just reported all its COVID infections in July. 81% are among the unvaccinated people. As a result, this makes 19% of these cases a breakthrough case-which is once again a major advantage of the vaccine. The same is true for the most serious consequences of COVID: 42 of the 55 deaths in Oregon were unvaccinated people.
The United States has now vaccinated nearly 172 million people. The virus has now spread more widely across the country. These two trends will collide with each other more frequently, which means that more people who are vaccinated will be infected. But obviously, there are far fewer people infected with the virus than people who have not been vaccinated. What’s more obvious is that the vaccine will protect most of them from serious illnesses. This is indeed what any vaccine should do.
Fishman: The big debate now going on is about intensified COVID injections. The Biden administration said it plans to provide boosters to all eligible Americans eight months after receiving the second dose of mRNA vaccine. Are these needed? For whom?
Lewis: These are important questions, and we have not yet got all the answers. What we do know is that some data from Israel and the CDC’s own research in the United States show that people who are vaccinated may now be more susceptible to mild or moderate infections than before. This may be the result of weakening of immunity over time, the effect of Delta variants, or some combination of the two.
The good news is that these vaccines still seem to provide excellent protection against serious illness and death. Currently, the vast majority of people hospitalized with COVID are not vaccinated.
As for who needs boosters, I spoke with some experts earlier this week, including Celine Gund New York University and Shane Crotty La Jolla Institute of Immunology. They say that it is clear that people with weakened immune systems or elderly people (especially those living in nursing homes) may benefit from the additional dose of the vaccine. But there is not much evidence that healthy people will soon need boosters.
Both Gounder and Crotty agreed that the greater focus should now be on getting people who have not been vaccinated for the first and second shots, because so far the benefits of doing so have outweighed the benefits of boosting some people. Vaccinating the rest of the country and the world is the real key to ending this pandemic.
Lewis: Now you are up to the rhythm. Thank you for joining us.
Fishman: Come back to the next episode of COVID in two weeks, hurry up! And check sciam.com for updates and in-depth COVID news.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]