Vaccines Proven to PREVENT INFECTION
-Bill Rutherford, MD March 29, 2021
OK – so I’m a geek, but as a physician and a reasonable scientist, but this is one of the most exciting studies I’ve seen. While the effectiveness of the current vaccines at preventing serious illness and death due to COVID is unquestionable, it had not yet been proven that they prevent actual infection – until now.
Data was just released on 3950 healthcare workers, first responders and other essential workers in six states who received the earliest vaccinations. Two weeks after the first shot of either Pfizer or Moderna they were 80% effective at preventing even asymptomatic infection, increasing to 90% effectiveness two weeks after the second shot. (For comparison, the flu vaccine is maximally 70-80% effective at preventing influenza.) Of those who did become infected, almost all were before the two-week interval after first shot had been reached. Another finding was that only 10% of those infected were asymptomatic, a figure much lower that early estimates that has implications I won’t address here.
This study was beautifully designed. First, it was “real world” – not a trial. Second, nasal swabs were obtained weekly for 13 weeks, regardless of whether or not the participants had symptoms. This means that even asymptomatic infections were factored into the results. Third, this study confirms the findings of a similar study conducted in Israel. Such confirmation – repeatability of the results of an intervention – is the gold standard in medical research.
Here’s why this study is such a BIG deal. As mentioned before, viruses MUST get inside a cell to replicate – they must infect. The amount of virus in an infected person is known as the viral load¸ and correlates with both the severity of illness and the chance of death. Without infection and replication, there simply is NO ILLNESS.
Second, without infection and replication, there is no possibility of mutation, meaning there is NO POSSIBILITY OF NEW VARIANTS.
The third implication is that the chances of an effectively vaccinated person being a “spreader” are drastically reduced if not eliminated. Strictly speaking, this has not yet be proven. Since viral load also correlates with how infectious a person is to others, having no viral load means having no capability of infecting others. However, it’s theoretically possible for a person to inhale enough virus particles into his or her nose, not be infected because of the vaccine (this would be colonization) and then sneeze or otherwise transfer them to someone who is vulnerable. (Thanks for teaching me to not pick my nose, Mom.) The odds of that happening would seem to be pretty small. My suspicion is that the necessary data from contact tracing of the study participants are being accumulated.
Finally, this study effectively cuts the legs from under some of the asinine arguments on social media by some opposed to vaccination, especially with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Based on poor interpretation of the trial results and wildly exaggerated statistics, they’ve argued that since the vaccines “only prevent disease and not infection, they’re therefore aren’t worth taking.” Really? Avoiding long hospitalization, possible death, and prolonged debilitating side effects isn’t worth 1 or 2 shots? One particularly slick purveyor of nonsense (that serves his economic interest) argues that “the mRNA vaccines don’t even meet the CDC’s own definition of a vaccine.”
What does this mean for you?
- I understand the urgency to “open up” because of economic necessity and pure “pandemic fatigue.” However, I agree with most of the public health officials and truly knowledgeable scientists that we’re loosening up societal public health mitigation measures just a bit too early and seeing the beginnings of a fourth surge. We seem to be spiking the football before we get to the goal line. However, my personal opinion is that you can “conditionally” relax – a bit. You’re highly unlikely to catch COVID from someone who has been effectively vaccinated – 2 weeks after the second shot of Pfizer or Moderna. It’s always good to pick the right friends. (The study was conducted before the J&J vaccine was available, but it’s likely the results would be pretty much the same).
- If YOU HAVE been effectively vaccinated, you’re highly unlikely to infect anyone else.
- If YOU HAVEN’T been vaccinated, you still shouldn’t party like its spring break in Miami. Although 144 million doses of vaccine have been given in the United States now, most of these are recent (before the period required for effectiveness has passed), and only 35 million adults are fully vaccinated. You aren’t yet able to “ride for free.”
- If YOU HAVEN’T been vaccinated . . . well, WHY NOT? The vaccines are safe, effective, and unless you are one of the VERY few with true medical reasons to not get one, getting vaccinated is just the right thing to do for yourself, your loved ones, and the rest of us. I’m happy to answer any questions and address your concerns – without judgment. That’s the reason I put my name and contact info here.
Dr. William Rutherford, MD is an Emergency Medicine Specialist in Indianapolis, IN and has over 40 years of experience in the medical field. He graduated from University of California School of Medicine – San Diego medical school in 1981. He is affiliated with IU Health Methodist Hospital.