COVID-19 Publications

What does 95% COVID-19 vaccine efficacy really mean?

Tags: , , | February 23rd, 2021

Author: Piero Olliaro

Published in: The Lancet

Introduction: It is imperative to dispel any ambiguity about how vaccine efficacy shown in trials translates into protecting individuals and populations. The mRNA-based Pfizer1,2 and Moderna3 vaccines were shown to have 94–95% efficacy in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, calculated as 100 × (1 minus the attack rate with vaccine divided by the attack rate with placebo). It means that in a population such as the one enrolled in the trials, with a cumulated COVID-19 attack rate over a period of 3 months of about 1% without a vaccine, we would expect roughly 0·05% of vaccinated people would get diseased. It does not mean that 95% of people are protected from disease with the vaccine—a general misconception of vaccine protection also found in a Lancet Infectious Diseases Editorial.

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