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‘Don’t pop the champagne’ for Pfizer’s COVID vaccine yet, warns virologist

Pedestrians walk past Pfizer world headquarters in New York on Monday Nov. 9, 2020. Pfizer says an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, but it doesn't mean a vaccine is imminent. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

What does Monday’s announcement from Pfizer regarding a potential COVID vaccine mean long-term? Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen, a weekly guest of KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show, offered some context on Twitter.

Pfizer said early data indicates that its COVID vaccine has proven effective in over 90% of its trial participants.

“We need any vaccine as soon as possible, but I’m pretty skeptical that this vaccine is going to be the ‘winner’ of the vaccine race,” Rasmussen said.

Virologist: We need to adjust expectations for the COVID vaccine

While Pfizer’s vaccine saw a “big reduction in symptoms” for 90% of its participants, Dr. Rasmussen said, “it’s not clear that this vaccine is effective at preventing infection altogether.” A reduction in symptoms is beneficial, but it’s different than a reduction in new cases, she explained.

“People who don’t get infected at all will not be able to potentially transmit the virus to others. People who have less symptomatic disease won’t be overwhelming hospitals and dying, but if they get infected they may still be able to transmit to others,” Rasmussen added.

She also says that while this is a huge finding that will save lives if it holds, there is still a lot of coordination needed before enough of the population is vaccinated that we wouldn’t have to worry about transmission from vaccinated to non-vaccinated people “without the same protection against severe disease.” This process could be even longer, she warns, if people are hesitant to get the vaccine or if access is limited.

Overall, she advises “cautious optimism,” and points out that “this news does not mean we are on the verge of ‘ending the pandemic.'”

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“If the data supports this it’s a big milestone but not the final milestone,” she said. “There’s still a long road ahead. Manage your expectations.”

On Tuesday, Dr. Rasmussen joined the Gee & Ursula Show and reiterated some of what she had expressed on Twitter. Listen to the whole interview below:

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