The Daily Beast
Apu Gomes/GettyThe COVID vaccines work. Really well. Isolated infections of vaccinated individuals and a half-baked, non-peer-reviewed study don’t change that.And the vaccines are safe, despite reports of a very small number of women—six out of tens of millions—suffering blood clots after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On Tuesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended states pause administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine while the agency looks into the clotting issue.The seemingly alarming news came rapid-fire in the past few days. A man also caught COVID after getting vaccinated in April, according to the New York Post. “It’s crazy and we need answers,” the paper quoted a relative of the patient as saying.It’s not crazy. And the answers are obvious. No one in government, academia, or the pharmaceutical industry ever claimed any vaccine—to say nothing of the brand-new COVID vaccines—is 100 percent effective.Literally no vaccine ever has been perfectly effective at preventing all infections. “Thus the New York Post case is wholly foreseeable,” Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University global-health expert, told The Daily Beast.Historically, a vaccine is considered highly effective if it blocks infection in 60 or 70 percent of people. The three COVID vaccines that have emergency approval from the FDA are all around 90 percent effective, making them way better than normal.But that still means that as many as one out of 10 people who get the vaccines might still catch COVID. “As so many people get vaccinated—over 72 million people in the U.S. are now fully vaccinated—that small risk will still translate into many people,” Mary Jo Trepka, a Florida International University epidemiologist, told The Daily Beast.While that could be a crisis for some patients, it’s not a crisis for the population as a whole.The science is clear. After a certain critical mass of inoculations—70 or 80 percent or so— Americans can safely get back to normal, confident that the majority of people are protected most of the time and the virus has no easy paths for rapidly spreading and mutating. “Herd immunity,” we call it.“I wish the Post story was told from the perspective of the importance of herd immunity,” Elias Sayour, an associate professor of neurosurgery and pediatrics at the University of Florida, told The Daily Beast.What’s more, the vaccines offer layers of protection. The jabs are even better at preventing serious illness and death than they are at preventing infection. Even if the novel-coronavirus gets lucky and punches through your vaccine-induced antibodies, those same antibodies mean that the resulting infection is likely to be way less severe than it would be if you’re unvaccinated.In other words, yes—some people are going to catch COVID after getting vaccinated. But those people will be few and far between relative to the hundreds of millions of people the United States is on track to vaccinate. And those few people are probably going to get through COVID OK, despite their unlucky break.There have been other false indicators of bad news concerning the vaccines. A small and somewhat sloppy study from Israel seems to signal that a new variant of SARS-CoV-2 might beat one of the leading vaccines—the two-dose jab from Pfizer“Vaccine-evasion”—when a virus evolves to dodge induced immunity—is a real thing and a real problem with all major pathogens. The flu virus’ ability to evolve pretty much annually and evade vaccines is the reason we have new flu shots every year.But there’s no clear evidence that any variant—“lineage” is the scientific term—of the novel coronavirus has evolved to evade any of the major vaccines.Some news outlets read the recent, small-scale Israeli survey of COVID patients to mean that B.1.351, a lineage that first appeared in South Africa, is capable of dodging the Pfizer vaccine.After surveying 400 people—a tiny sample—the study’s authors found that B.1.351 accounted for 1 percent of COVID cases overall, but 5 percent of infections in people who had been recently fully vaccinated with the Pfizer jab.“This suggests the vaccine is less effective against the South African variant,” Reuters claimed.No, it doesn’t. “That study was very small and had fragile results,” Jeffrey Klausner, a University of Southern California clinical professor of preventive medicine who previously worked at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Daily Beast.If the numbers are accurate and if other research backs them up, the worst conclusion we can draw is that the South Africa lineage is becoming slightly more dominant in a country that is rapidly approaching herd immunity. “There are no surprises here,” Anthony Alberg, a University of South Carolina epidemiologist, told The Daily Beast.The fact that the Israeli study hasn’t been peer-reviewed yet should be a warning to reporters to tread lightly. Until outside experts have vetted a new scientific study, it’s best to be very, very skeptical. “It troubles me that people are pushing stuff out into the media before the peer-review process,” Irwin Redlener, the founding director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told The Daily Beast.But for all its flaws, the “fragile” Israeli study actually includes some good news that many reporters either misunderstood or ignored. “There appeared to be no loss of vaccine efficacy against the B.1.351 variant 14 days after the second dose,” Klausner pointed out. Give the vaccine time to work, and it works just fine.As the U.S. and many other countries steadily march toward population-level herd immunity thanks to highly effective vaccines and increasingly determined efforts to administer them, the good news should drown out the bad. Every day, millions more people are safer from COVID. Every day, life can get a little closer to normal.Reams of peer-reviewed data from huge trial groups, repeatedly vetted by multiple authorities, make it very clear: The FDA-approved vaccines work. You should get one of them as soon as you’re eligible. Not only will the shot protect you, it will help to protect the people around you, too.Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.