JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The first large, independently-reviewed real-world study of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine shows that the injection is highly effective in preventing COVID-19, in a potentially historic time for countries desperate to end to blockades and reopen economies.
Until now, most of the data on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines has been obtained under controlled conditions in clinical trials, leaving an element of uncertainty as to how the results would translate in the real world with its unpredictable variables.
Research in Israel, two months after one of the world’s fastest launches, providing a rich source of data, showed that two doses of the Pfizer injection reduced symptomatic cases of COVID-19 by 94% in all age groups and serious diseases in almost the same amount. .
The study of about 1.2 million people also showed that a single injection was 57% effective in protecting against symptomatic infections after two weeks, according to data published and peer-reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.
The study results for the Clalit Research Institute were close to those from last year’s clinical trials that found two doses were 95% effective.
“We were surprised because we expected that in the real world environment, where the cold chain is not perfectly maintained and the population is older and sicker, it will not get as good results as it did in controlled clinical trials,” senior study author Ran Balicer told Reuters. “But we did it and the vaccine worked in the real world as well.”
“We have shown that the vaccine is just as effective in very different subgroups, in the young and in the elderly in those with no comorbidities and in those with few comorbidities,” he added.
The study also suggests that the vaccine, developed by US pharmaceuticals Pfizer and German BioNTech, is effective against the variant of the coronavirus first identified in the UK. The researchers said they could not provide a specific level of efficacy, but the variant was the dominant version of the virus in Israel at the time of the study.
The research shed no light on how Pfizer’s injection will fare against another variant, now dominant in South Africa, which has been shown to reduce the effectiveness of other vaccines.
‘THIS IS MORE GREAT NEWS’
Of the nine million people in Israel, a nation with universal health care, nearly half have received a first dose and a third have received both doses since the launch began on December 19.
This made the country a prime location for a real-world study of the vaccine’s ability to stop the pandemic, along with its advanced data capabilities.
The study looked at about 600,000 vaccinated people versus the same-size control group of unvaccinated people. Researchers from Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital also collaborated.
“This is great news, as it confirms that the vaccine is around 90% effective in preventing documented infections of any degree of severity starting 7 days after the second dose,” said Peter English, consultant to the British government on communicable disease control.
“Previous work recently studied from Israel were observational studies. This used an experimental design known as a case-control study … giving greater confidence that the differences between the groups are due to their vaccination status and not to some other factor. “
The study released Wednesday was the first analysis of a national COVID-19 vaccination strategy to be peer-reviewed. It also offered a more detailed look at how the vaccine was doing at weekly intervals, while comparing people who received the vaccine with unvaccinated people with similar medical backgrounds, sex, age and geographic characteristics.
Other research centers in Israel, including the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Institute of Technology, have shared several studies in recent weeks showing that the vaccine is effective.
At least three studies in Israel have also suggested that the vaccine may reduce the transmission of the coronavirus, but the researchers cautioned that larger studies must be conducted to draw clear conclusions.
DO YOU HAVE YOUR IMMUNITY PASS?
The latest data from the Weizmann Institute shows a dramatic drop in the disease, which began this month with the first age group vaccinated, those over 60, has now spread to the subsequent two groups to have completed both doses.
As infections have decreased in Israel, the country has eased its third national shutdown and reopened sectors of its economy, including shopping malls, stores, schools and many workplaces in the past two weeks.
Recreational venues like theaters, gyms, and hotels opened Sunday, but are open only to those deemed immune: holders of a “Green Pass,” a Ministry of Health document available for download only to people seven days after their second dose. or people who have recovered from COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Tel Aviv held one of the country’s first live concerts after months of meetings being banned under coronavirus restrictions.
“This is very exciting, we are very happy to be here today. It’s amazing after a year of being home, it’s great to go out and see some culture, ”said Gabi Shamir, 60, as she took a seat at the outdoor show.
Still, the efficacy of the vaccine does not mean that the country will be free of a pandemic anytime soon. As in other parts of the world, a large proportion of the population is under the age of 16, about a third in Israel, which means that they cannot yet be vaccinated because there have been no results from clinical trials for children.
“This is definitely not the end of the pandemic,” said Eran Kopel, an epidemiologist at Tel Aviv University. “Once there is a safe vaccine for children in Israel and around the world, we can start to say that we could be getting closer to herd immunity.”
Additional reporting by Rami Amichay in Tel Aviv and Kate Kelland in London; Written by Maayan Lubell; Edited by Pravin Char