Pfizer BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine is called Comirnaty. Pete Bannan/MediaNews Group/Daily Local News via Getty Images
On Monday, independent experts to the CDC voted unanimously to recommend Pfizer’s vaccine to everyone over 16.
Their decision was data-driven, and factored in both the risks and benefits of vaccination.
They reviewed graphs and tables showing that, while vaccinated people can get mild infections, Pfizer’s vaccine does a great job keeping people alive and out of the hospital.
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Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is now not only approved for everyone over 16 years old, it’s recommended.
On Monday, an independent advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted unanimously to support recommending the vaccine.
The decision of those 14 experts was based on overwhelming evidence that Pfizer’s 2-shot immunization, named Comirnaty, which was fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week, is not only safe but also works very well at preventing disease.
The independent experts on the CDC panel cheered on the creation of the COVID-19 vaccines in the midst of a pandemic, calling it a “miraculous accomplishment” and “a moment of incredible scientific innovation.”
Here are eight charts and graphs that lay out why Pfizer’s vaccine was given a big thumbs up:
COVID-19 vaccines are doing a great job keeping people healthy, alive, and out of the hospital.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ACIP meeting Aug. 30, 2021 https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/acip/meetings/slides-2021-08-30.html
The CDC committee looked at data from across the US showing unvaccinated adults are being hospitalized for COVID-19 at rates roughly 16 times higher than the vaccinated.
As of August 23, 0.006% of vaccinated Americans (fewer than 9,000 people) have had a severe enough case of COVID-19 to be hospitalized, according to CDC data.
The number of vaccinated people who’ve died from COVID-19 is even smaller. Of the 636,015 American COVID-19 deaths, just 2,063, or 0.3% have been in vaccinated people, a tiny fraction when you consider that more than 174 million people are fully vaccinated in the US.
Unvaccinated people under age 50 are getting hospitalized at especially high rates this year.
The CDC tracks these rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations through COVID-NET, a system which collects data from 250 hospitals across 14 states (located in different areas of the country) every week.
It’s true that more vaccinated people are now catching COVID-19, due to the Delta variant. But their cases are generally mild and the vaccines are still preventing severe disease well.
This graph was compiled by the CDC for the advisory committee, and it is based on 14 separate studies from independent experts around the world, who all aimed to evaluate how well COVID-19 vaccines work in the face of the Delta variant.
The blue colored circles represent Pfizer-only studies, while the red circles are for studies that evaluated both Pfizer and Moderna. The Y-axis on the left represents vaccine effectiveness, as determined in each study.
As you can see, the effectiveness of Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines against any infection ranges widely in these new studies, from around 40% to 80%.
That’s in line with what we know about Delta — it is more contagious. Delta spreads more easily from person to person than other variants, and thus vaccinated people are now more vulnerable to COVID-19 infections when they are exposed to other people who are contagious.
However, the COVID-19 vaccine remains over 80% effective against severe disease in all of these new studies, suggesting that the vaccines are still doing their primary job of fighting off severe infections in vaccinated people very well, even with Delta here.
Hospitalizations of vaccinated patients remain rare, even with Delta.
These two graphs, also created by the CDC, pull together findings from six different studies across the US, UK and Israel, which each aim to compare COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness before and after Delta showed up.
The blue dots represent pre-Delta effectiveness percentages, while the orange dots represent vaccine effectiveness with Delta.
As you can see in the graph on the left, vaccine effectiveness is reduced for any symptomatic disease with Delta, but the graph on the right adds more nuance to the story, telling us that hospitalizations and severe COVID-19 cases are still rare in vaccinated people.
So instead of getting really sick and landing in the hospital, fully vaccinated people who catch COVID-19 may have more mundane symptoms, like headache, sniffles, or a fever.
In the young and generally healthy 16-29 year old age group, the amount of suffering that could be avoided through more vaccinations is staggering.
This graph takes into account a lower vaccine effectiveness with Delta and still shows (in light blue bars) a huge number of hospitalizations that could now be avoided by using Pfizer’s vaccine in young adults from ages 16 to 29.
For every million doses administered of Pfizer’s vaccine, 9,980 people under 29 could avoid hospitalization from COVID-19.
The dark blue bars represent even more severe intensive care unit COVID-19 cases. For every one million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine administered, 1,300 people from ages 16 to 29 will not end up in the ICU, the CDC estimates.
The red bars on the right directly compare how those tangible benefits outweigh the potential risk of myocarditis for every age group.
Myocarditis is a temporary, treatable condition.
For every million doses of Pfizer vaccine given, roughly 136 teens and young adults, most of them teenage boys, have a risk of myocarditis after vaccination, the CDC says.
The panel said the benefits of Pfizer’s shot outweigh the very small risk of myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, in teens and young adults.
This chart shows the number of myocarditis cases to be expected after vaccination with Pfizer’s shot, broken down by age and sex, per million doses.
It’s estimated here that fewer than 150 myocarditis cases in teens and young adults ages 16-29 would materialize, for every 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine given to such young people.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of COVID-19 cases, some of them life-threatening, could be avoided by vaccination in that same age group.
Myocarditis is both temporary and treatable, and the risk of potentially developing the heart condition is actually far worse after a viral infection like COVID-19 than it is with vaccination.
Allergic reactions after Pfizer’s vaccine are also exceedingly rare, and treatable.
In the table above, the line circled in red shows the number of expected anaphylaxis cases per million doses of vaccine administered, for Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson’s shots.
For Pfizer, the expected rate of anaphylaxis after vaccination is now five cases per million shots given, which is less than half of what experts initially thought.
Anaphylaxis is generally treatable with epinephrine, which all COVID-19 vaccination sites nationwide are required to have on hand.
“I’m delighted to say that we now have a fully FDA approved, CDC recommended vaccine available,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a White House briefing on Tuesday afternoon, in a nod to all this new data.
“For anyone who’s been waiting to get vaccinated until we had more evidence on safety and effectiveness, I hope yesterday’s announcement will have you join the more than 170 million people who have decided to protect themselves against COVID 19 by getting vaccinated.”
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