Are vaccines more effective than we thought? Probably yes, experts say

The vaccine has not only already confirmed what emerged from the clinical trials, but showed even more promising results.

Israelis receive the coronavirus vaccine in Tel Aviv after the Health Ministry announced that anyone over the age of 16 can now be vaccinated, Feb. 4, 2021. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Israelis receive the coronavirus vaccine in Tel Aviv after the Health Ministry announced that anyone over the age of 16 can now be vaccinated, Feb. 4, 2021.
When a vaccine against the coronavirus, such as the one produced by Pfizer, is described as 95% effective, the number refers to its ability to prevent inoculated individuals from contracting the virus.
However, the vaccine seems to offer several more additional benefits – first and foremost protection against severe symptoms or even death even for those who still get infected. And while experts explain that more studies are needed to verify and quantify these benefits, the first findings are very encouraging.
At the same time, though, specialists warn that at least for now, it would be a mistake to rely just on the vaccines to solve the coronavirus crisis.
“In a clinical trial, it is important to define an objective, such as reduction of symptoms, of mortality, or of transmission,” Prof. Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post. “In the clinical trials for the vaccine, the goal set was the reduction of the manifestation of the disease, while other elements were not checked, which is fine because they were working in an emergency situation.”
According to Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Public Health, the vaccine has already confirmed what emerged from the clinical trials, and it showed even more promising results.
“What we know not only from the Pfizer study, but thanks to the data from the field here in Israel, is that the inoculation is offering protection from contracting the virus at the individual level and almost completely preventing people from developing severe symptoms and dying, he said. “Moreover, it is also clear that it is helping to prevent the transmission of the virus to others, but not in a complete way. We are still in the middle of several observational studies in cooperation with the health funds and in nursing homes to verify it.”
BOTH EXPERTS pointed out that a few more months are going to be needed to understand the full scope of the vaccines’ potential, and in the meantime, it is important to work on several levels to fight the pandemic.
“We have to explain to the people that biological processes are slow,” Cohen said. “It is like going on a diet: People cannot expect to receive the first dose and for everything to change immediately, the same way they cannot expect to lose 10 pounds in a day.”
 According to Davidovitch, “Since the beginning, we knew that the vaccine was going to be a game changer, but we need to set the right expectations because there are several issues at play.”
“First of all, at the moment, we cannot achieve herd immunity because we cannot vaccinate children, since in light of the variants, we need around 80% of the population vaccinated for that, and children make up about 30% of the population,” he said.
“The vaccines are extremely important: They give us protection; they are reducing severe disease and death and saving lives,” Davidovitch said. “But in terms to returning to normal life, they cannot be the only solution: We need to implement rapid tests, avoid mass gatherings and resolve the problems of a chronically underfunded health system. For these reasons and in consideration of pandemic fatigue, we need to plan a new normal in a careful and sophisticated way.”
According to the specialists, this is especially true for the education system, which needs to be reopened but in a very vigilant way, combining social-distancing measures with the protection that the vaccine gives to teachers, which is crucial because they are very exposed, especially if they are over a certain age and at risk of contracting a more severe disease, which children usually are not.
Cohen said he believed the Israeli public has been more responsive to the vaccine compared to what happened in other countries. However, he said he was worried about fake news disseminated on the Web.
“I can understand for people to be hesitant, but a decision on whether to get vaccinated should be based on facts,” Cohen said. “When I hear people saying that vaccine can cause cancer or infertility, I do worry.”
“We started to vaccinate around six weeks ago, and the process takes three weeks,” he said. “Therefore, only now we are starting to see the effects of the vaccination campaign. I hope that in two weeks we will see a better situation in terms of severe cases. We need to be a little more patient, but the data are encouraging.”