Another study released Monday underscored the remarkable effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines. Public health experts in Scotland examined data on all 5.4 million residents of Scotland, including the million-plus who had received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, and found that getting the first dose reduced the risk of hospitalization by up to 85 percent and 94 percent, respectively, after four weeks — even as a new, more transmissible variant became dominant.
The Scottish study has not yet been peer-reviewed, but it matches findings from Israel and elsewhere that in the real world, the COVID-19 vaccines are proving incredibly good at preventing serious infections, hospitalization, and death, apparently even transmission. Still, the message a lot of people hear about the vaccines, David Leonhardt argues in The New York Times, is that “the coronavirus vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective. Vaccinated people may still be contagious. And the virus variants may make everything worse. … The vaccine is not a get-out-of-COVID-free card!“
That type of “vaccine alarmism” is grounded in technical truths but “fundamentally misleading,” Leonhardt writes, and it’s feeding the sizable share of Americans who say they would turn down a vaccine “partly because it sounds so ineffectual.” So what’s getting lost in translation?
“Many academic experts — and, yes, journalists too — are instinctively skeptical and cautious,” Leonhardt says. In their own lives, “many are getting shots as soon as they’re offered one. They are urging their family and friends to do the same. But when they speak to a national audience, they deliver a message that comes off very differently. It is dominated by talk of risks, uncertainties, caveats, and possible problems.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said on CNN Sunday that “we will be approaching a degree of normality” in the fall, but the headlines note he also said it’s “possible” people may still have to wear face masks in 2022.
Public health experts do genuinely disagree about where we are in the pandemic and what lies ahead. But when it comes to the vaccines, there’s broad agreement. All seven vaccines that have undergone large trials “appear to be 100 percent effective for serious complications,” a group of prominent public health experts wrote in a USA Today op-ed last week. “The best thing you can do is get vaccinated as soon as you’re able with whichever vaccine is available to you first.”
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