This past summer the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that in order for a Covid-19 vaccine to be approved for federal regulation and distribution it would need to be safe and “prevent disease or decrease its severity in at least 50% of people who are vaccinated.”
No vaccine is 100% effective, however, some do work better than others depending on how high that percentage is. For example, one of the most successful vaccine’s out there is the treatment for measles, which after two doses works to be 97% effective in preventing the disease. Dr. Jeff Kwong is a professor of public health and family medicine and interim director of the Center for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto, who recently spoke with the media about this percentage.
“I know that 50 percent does sound low but that is still some protection, and some protection is better than no protection.”
The FDA set this percentage to be relatively low through their emergency use authorizations, which can speed up the process in which a vaccine or drug treatment is distributed to the public if the danger is imminent enough. This means, however, that a vaccine could become available that will only help half of the people receiving it. It could also impact people differently, some might become fully immune from it, and some may just have a reduced case should they be infected.
A 50% effective Covid-19 vaccine, however, is way better than no vaccine, according to the FDA. Experts used the flu vaccine as an example, claiming that its effectiveness can vary year to year based on how severe the actual flu season is. Within the past decade alone the flu vaccine has fluctuated between 20% and 60% in terms of effectiveness, however, it always reduces the amount of illness, hospitalizations and influenza caused deaths, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dr. Gregory Poland is the director of the Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group who recently discussed the substantial impact a 50% effective Covid-19 vaccine could actually have on the nation.
“If you had a 60 or 70 percent effective vaccine and everybody took it, you might actually be reaching toward herd immunity and potentially then dampen down this pandemic.”
Right now, however, researchers still don’t know how effective each experimental vaccine is because the trials are ongoing. Poland explained that most of the clinical trials occurring are focusing on how much the vaccine actually prevents the disease. Once the studies are completed it will be revealed who benefited the most from vaccination.
Researchers are focusing on different demographics to get a greater understanding over how this virus may impact certain individuals differently. For example, some studies are focusing on how a vaccine may affect a man versus a woman, individuals of different age groups, or individuals with underlying health conditions.
Once a vaccine is one the market it’s still going to take a while for the pandemic to come to a close, as vaccinating millions of people takes time, so policies such as facial coverings, social distancing and hand washing will continue to exist in our world for quite some time.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.