The 'astounding success' of the Covid vaccines
In the medical community, the term "breakthrough infections" refers to people who have been vaccinated for a communicable disease — be it the flu or the COVID-19 coronavirus — and get infected with it anyway. Science writer Katherine J. Wu, in an article published by the Atlantic this week, describes the different types of "breakthrough" infections that can occur even if one has been vaccinated for COVID-19. And she stresses that despite the possibility of breakthroughs, it is still much better to be vaccinated for COVID-19 than not. They shots are an "astounding success."
No vaccine offers a 100% guarantee that the person receiving it won't get infected, but the majority of people who have received the Moderna, Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine for COVID-19 will not suffer a breakthrough infection — and even if they do, it's much less likely to be a serious case. There is a huge difference between suffering mild cold-like symptoms from COVID-19 and ending up on a ventilator or dying from it.
"The first thing to know about the COVID-19 vaccines is that they're doing exactly what they were designed and authorized to do," Wu explains. "Since the shots first started their rollout late last year, rates of COVID-19 disease have taken an unprecedented plunge among the immunized. We are, as a nation, awash in a glut of spectacularly effective vaccines that can, across populations, geographies, and even SARS-CoV-2 variants, stamp out the most serious symptoms of disease."
Wu continues: "No vaccines are 100% effective at preventing infection or disease. But our current crop of COVID-19 shots comes pretty damn close with regards to stymieing symptoms, especially the severe ones that can signal a deadly case. The Moderna and Pfizer shots have consistently demonstrated very high COVID-prevention rates, often in the 90s; Johnson & Johnson's, for the most part, isn't far behind. Symptomatic breakthroughs are the cases that wedge themselves in the gap between excellent effectiveness and perfect effectiveness; in other words, we saw them coming."
The COVID-19 figures reported by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are certainly disturbing. According to Hopkins, more than 4 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide — and over 608,000 of them were residents of the United States, which has the highest COVID-19 death count of any country in the world. Yet there is reason for optimism where the United States' battle with the novel coronavirus is concerned.
Nationwide, according to National Public Radio, 67% of adult U.S. residents have been at least partially vaccinated for COVID-19 — and President Joe Biden, who has been quite aggressive about encouraging vaccination, wants to get that number even higher. Biden has repeatedly said that the higher the vaccination rates, the sooner Americans will be able to get back to normal and achieve some type of herd immunity.
The bottom line, according to Wu, is that breakthroughs and all, those who are vaccinated for COVID-19 are in a much safer position than those who aren't.
"Even out in the messiness of the real world, symptomatic breakthrough cases are proving themselves quite rare," Wu notes. "The overwhelming majority of the COVID-19 cases we're seeing are among the unvaccinated. And when the virus does affect the immunized, it seems to accumulate to lower levels, and spread less enthusiastically to new hosts; it's causing, on average, milder and more transient symptoms."
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