Last week, Moderna and Pfizer released initial results of phase 3 trials for their COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the New England Journal of Medicine. Based on these results, both vaccine candidates are safe to use and effective against COVID-19.
Releasing vaccine trial methods and data is a rare occurrence, and the data shows that both companies have achieved their targets for the vaccine - prevent COVID-19 infection after completing the two doses with no serious adverse effects.
Cumulative incidence of COVID-19 in Pfizer vaccine trial. Source: NEJM
Cumulative incidence of COVID-19 in Moderna vaccine trial. Source: NEJM
Both charts show a dramatic difference between the placebo groups and the vaccinated groups after the second dose (21 days after the first dose for Pfizer and 28 days after the first dose for Moderna) Pfizer reports 95% protection against COVID-19 and Moderna reports 94.1% efficacy in preventing COVID-19 (FDA's minimum efficacy is 50%). The Moderna vaccine data also showed that it can prevent severe cases of COVID-19; all severe cases in the Moderna trial were in the placebo group and none in the vaccinated group.
Reported local and systemic reactions to Pfizer vaccine, by age group. Source: NEJM
Reported local and systemic reactions to Moderna vaccine. Source: NEJM
Local reactions (i.e., at the site of injection) and systemic reactions (e.g., fatigue, headaches, muscle aches) were moderate in severity and resolved within 2 days of injection.
The vaccine trials are ongoing and participants will continue to be monitored but with these promising results, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have received emergency use approvals by the FDA. Healthcare workers, long-term care facility residents, and frontline workers have received their first doses of the vaccines.
One important question about these vaccines have emerged: Will they work against the new variants from the UK, South Africa, and Nigeria? Many experts expect the vaccines to work against the UK variant but have expressed doubts on the vaccine's effectiveness against the South African variant. We will have to wait for more information to determine whether these two vaccines will work against the new variants.
What does this all mean?
We encourage everyone to get vaccinated whenever their turn comes up. The vaccines have proven to be effective and safe. The side effects continuously reported by the media are rare cases and should not prevent one from getting the vaccine. The side effects, if any, are a much better alternative than COVID-19's symptoms (let's not forget about long term COVID-19 symptoms).
Do not stop COVID-19 prevention practices after completing the two doses of the vaccine. The data only shows that the vaccines prevent disease but there's no data that shows the vaccine can prevent transmission. Wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, and washing hands can stop transmission of COVID-19.