What’s been learned from new COVID vaccine research?

Health

FILE – This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. The sample was isolated from a patient in the U.S. According to an analysis by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday, April 6, 2021 in JAMA Pediatrics, most children with a serious inflammatory illness linked to the coronavirus had initial COVID-19 infections with no symptoms or only mild ones, new U.S. research shows. (NIAID-RML via AP, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10)- The problem with COVID-19 for scientists and the healthcare community since the beginning of the pandemic has been a lack of research. Many questions regarding the vaccines, including long-term efficacy, were not immediately available.

This has made it important for researchers to continually analyze new information as more becomes available, something that can only be done over time. It has left government agencies, public health departments, and even school districts struggling to keep up with the latest guidance.

The rollout of vaccines provided hope, but researchers were clear from the beginning that they did not know how long the vaccines would provide protection.

When Pfizer’s COVID vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the first COVID vaccine to get emergency approval, Pfizer was still in the middle of case studies measuring for long-term effectiveness.

As time went on, the vaccines appeared to be doing what they were intended to do – keep people out of the hospital. That was until breakthrough cases started to be reported along with the rise in cases linked to the Delta variant.

Now, experts in the U.S. are recommending a booster shot for COVID-vaccinated people eight months after their initial series, and a new report from the New York State Department of Health (DOH) supports that recommendation, according to New York State Health Commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker.

The DOH report was published in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Wednesday and is the first analysis of breakthrough cases in the U.S.

Dr. Zucker, a senior author of the report, said he was proud the report provided statistical data that would help federal health experts determine further public health guidance.

“Today, the Biden administration’s public health and medical experts announced that a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccines will be needed to maximize vaccine-induced protection and prolong its durability, recognizing that many vaccines are associated with a reduction in protection over time, and acknowledging that additional vaccine doses could be needed to provide long-lasting protection,” he said.

The report reaffirmed the ability of the vaccines to keep people out of the hospital. Vaccinated New Yorkers were up to 95% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, compared to the states unvaccinated, based on data gathered by the DOH from May 3 to July 25.

During that time, the DOH tracked new cases in both vaccinated and unvaccinated New Yorkers well after the vaccines had become available to a vast majority of the population, according to the report.

The DOH calculated the approximate effectiveness of vaccines for each week beginning May 3. In the first five weeks, the effectiveness hovered between 91.6% (week of May 3) and 92.7% (week of May 10). From there the effectiveness steadily decreases from 89.7% (week of June 7) to 78.2% (week of July 12), with a slight rebound the week of July 19 (79.8%).

They also tracked the infection rate in vaccinated New Yorkers, which was significantly lower than in unvaccinated New Yorkers. The infection rate for vaccinated residents was between .52 and 3.94, the infection rate for unvaccinated residents was between 4.23 and 21.

Vaccinated infection rate and vaccine effectiveness

Week beginningNo. of vaccinatedInfection rateEstimated vaccine effectiveness
May 37001.6091.7%
May 105891.2192.7%
May 175551.0491.9%
May 24431.7592.0%
May 31364.6091.6%
June 7341.5489.7%
June 14340.5287.9%
June 21396.5985.8%
June 28535.7883.8%
July 59281.3482.4%
July 121,7032.4278.2%
July 192,7933.9479.8%
NYSDOH

Unvaccinated infection rate

Week beginningNo. of unvaccinatedInfection rate
May 37,38719.66
May 105,83916.89
May 174,10612.63
May 242,7578.86
May 312,0926.97
June 71,5045.08
June 141,2334.23
June 211,2014.27
June 281,4215.19
July 52,2238.20
July 123,24212.13
July 195,50021.00
NYSDOH

“At this important time in the epidemic, we’ve observed a clear increase in cases for unvaccinated and even vaccinated people. Yet these results demonstrate that compared to unvaccinated people, those who are vaccinated remain consistently far more protected against infection and hospitalization,” said DOH’s Dr. Eli Rosenberg, lead author of the report and an associate professor at UAlbany.

Studies like this one are an important part of understanding COVID and learning the best ways to protect public health. Albany Med said from their perspective they have been first-hand witnesses to the effectiveness of COVID vaccines.

They said since the vaccination became available a majority of their COVID inpatients have been unvaccinated. They also said vaccinated individuals with breakthrough cases tend to be less sick, and if they are hospitalized, their stay is for a shorter time.

Saint Peters Health Partners said they know the vaccines are safe and help keep community members from becoming seriously sick or being admitted to the hospital. “Even though we are seeing breakthrough cases, the vaccines remain our most effective tool at preventing COVID-19, especially when combined with other protective measures like masking and physical distancing,” a spokesperson said.

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