The First Dose of the Pfizer Vaccine Gives About 50% COVID Protection, Not 91% Claimed by Those Who Want to Speed Up Immunization

 Newswise
15-Jan-2021 8:55 AM EST, by Newswise

Fact Check By: Craig Jones, Newswise

Truthfulness: Mostly False

Claim:

First Pfizer jab ‘gives 91% Covid protection’ as officials consider single shot programme to speed up immunity

Claim Publisher and Date: The Sun on 2020-12-27

An article published by The Sun and another article in The Evening Standard reported that the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine gives "91 per cent protection" from COVID-19 after just the first dose. The article refers to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In a push to speed up the immunization in the UK, politicians such as former MP Tony Blair urged a faster roll out of the first vaccine in order to stop the surge of the virus, before stocks of a second dose are ready. Professor David Salisbury, in charge of immunization programs at the Department of Health until 2013, is quoted as saying, “If you look at the New England Journal of Medicine paper about the Pfizer vaccine..you give one dose and you get 91 per cent protection, you give two doses and you get 95 per cent."  

The NEJM paper actually states that the efficacy between the first and second doses was found to be 52 percent when given 21 days apart. After the second dose, the efficacy raises to 95 percent. 

A spokesperson at Pfizer has responded to the call for the aggressive roll out the first dose.  “As has been previously reported and published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the final primary efficacy analysis of our ongoing Phase 3 clinical study demonstrated a vaccine efficacy rate of 95 per cent in participants, from 7 days after the second dose.

Although some protection from the vaccine appears to begin after the first dose (52 per cent), the information for healthcare professionals approved by the UK regulator (the MHRA) states that, individuals may not be protected until at least 7 days after their second dose of the same vaccine. Two doses of the vaccine 21 days apart are required to provide the maximum protection and this correlates with the level of neutralising antibodies."

The study’s authors noted, however, that it was not “designed to assess the efficacy of a single-dose regimen”. 

According to preliminary data from Israel's mass vaccination program as reported by Newsweek, the Pfizer vaccine reduces the risk of infection by around 50 percent 14 days after the first of two shots is administered.

Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a former FDA associate commissioner for external relations had this to say, “This is an important discussion, but the plural of anecdote is not data. We must actively communicate the need for a two-dose vaccination schedule and not jump to unsubstantiated conclusions for political expediency."

Sources:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/dec/23/more-data-needed-before-second-vaccine-dose-diverted-to-first-timers-says-covid-adviser

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/should-we-change-covid-vaccine-doses-to-reach-more-people-what-the-data-say1/

https://www.newsweek.com/first-pfizer-vaccine-shot-risk-50-percent-1561285

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