Good news for people with kids: this week, Pfizer and BioNTech released results for their trial involving adolescents aged 12-15. In the trial, no participants who received the vaccine contracted symptomatic COVID-19 out of a total of 2,260 participants, marking an efficacy rate of 100%. (Remember in December the efficacy rate was 95% for adults.) 18 participants in the placebo group did get symptomatic COVID-19. Additionally, Dr. Fauci said in the April 2 White House COVID-19 briefing that, by the end of the year, there should be enough data to safely vaccinate children of any age.
The results are, obviously, fantastic. But there was a wrinkle in reporting said results; one that pointed to the dangers of communicating science via press release. Originally, as Dr. Natalie Dean pointed out on Twitter, there was some confusion over whether there were no cases in the vaccinated group at all, or whether there were just no symptomatic cases:
This is pretty important as infections in this group tend to be asymptomatic. Apoorva Mandavilli, who broke the Pfizer story for the New York Times, clarified that she had been told that there were in fact no infections:
Until someone pointed out that STAT had clarified that there were no symptomatic infections:
Mandavilli decided to triple check, and turns out:
Basically, someone at Pfizer messed up and incorrectly said that there had been no infections in the vaccine group at all when they really meant that there were no symptomatic infections. It doesn’t look like they regularly tested participants who had gotten the vaccine vs participants who got the placebo. This sounds like splitting hairs, but precision matters when communicating the results of highly anticipated trials. “No infections” and “no symptomatic cases” are different results. It’s a blow to Pfizer’s credibility in their press releases, and it was probably at least really annoying for Mandavilli.
In the meantime, Johnson & Johnson has also begun a trial in adolescents, so hopefully whoever is running PR for them saw this Twitter thread (or is reading this article 👀) and will know to be more careful than the Pfizer guy was.
But for now, we can rejoice in what is still very promising data. You get a Pfizer! And you get a Pfizer! How about a Pfizer for the little one? EVERYBODY GETS A PFIZER! (Well, when it gets actually authorized for that age group.)
- Booster shots exacerbate global vaccine inequityAt the end of last week’s post on booster shots, I wrote that these additional doses take up airtime in expert discussions and in the media, distracting from discussions of what it will take to vaccinate the world. But these shots do more harm than just taking over the media cycle. When the U.S. and other wealthy nations decide to give many residents third doses, they jump the vaccine supply line again—leaving low-income nations to wait even longer for first doses.
- Another COVID-19 endgame takeTrevor Bedford, computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center—and widely regarded expert on coronavirus variants—wrote a useful Twitter thread this week. In the thread, Bedford provides his take on the “COVID-19 endgame.” In other words, what will happen once the virus reaches endemic levels?
- Unreliable population numbers hinder vaccination rate analysisAn excellent article in the Financial Times, published this past Monday, illuminates one major challenge of estimating a vaccine campaign’s success: population data are not always reliable. Health reporter Oliver Barnes and data reporter John Burn-Murdoch explain that, in several countries and smaller regions, inaccurate counts of how many people live in the region have led to vaccination rate estimates that make the area’s vaccine campaign look more successful—or less successful—than it really is.
- Booster shots: What we’ve learned—and what we still don’t knowThis week, the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee had a two-day meeting to discuss booster shots for Moderna’s and Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccines. From the outside, these meetings may have appeared fairly straightforward: the committee voted unanimously to recommend booster shots for both vaccines. But in fact, the discussions on both days were wide-reaching and full of questions, touching on the many continued gaps in our knowledge about the need for additional vaccine doses.