How Vaccine Messaging Confused the Public

Pivotal randomized control trials (RCTs) underpinning approval of Covid-19 vaccines did not set out to, and did not, test if the vaccines prevent transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Nor did the trials test if the vaccines reduce mortality risk. A review of seven phase III trials, including those for Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines, found the criterion the vaccines were trialled against was just reduced risk of Covid-19 symptoms.

There should be no secret about these facts, as they were discussed in August 2020 in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal); one of the oldest and most widely cited medical journals in the world. Moreover, this was not an isolated article, as the editor-in-chief also gave her own summary of the vaccine-testing situation, which has proved very prescient:

“…we are heading for vaccines that reduce severity of illness rather than protect against infection [and] provide only short-lived immunity, … as well as damaging public confidence and wasting global resources by distributing a poorly effective vaccine, this could change what we understand a vaccine to be. Instead of long-term, effective disease prevention it could become a suboptimal chronic treatment.”It was not just the BMJ covering these features of the RCTs. When health bureaucrats Rochelle Walensky, Henry Walke and Anthony Fauci claimed (in the Journal of the American Medical Association) that “clinical trials have shown that the vaccines authorized for use in the US are highly effective against Covid-19 infection, severe illness and death” this was felt sufficiently false that the journal published a comment simply titled “Inaccurate Statement.”

The basis of the comment was that the primary endpoint for the RCTs was symptoms of Covid-19; a less exacting standard than testing to show efficacy against infection, severe illness, and death.

Yet these aspects of the vaccine trials discussed in medical journals are largely unknown by the general public. To measure public understanding of the Covid-19 vaccine trials I added a question about the vaccine testing to an ongoing nationally representative survey of adult New Zealanders.

While not top-of-mind for most readers, New Zealand is a useful place for finding out about public understanding of the vaccine trials. Until recently, when a few doses of AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines were allowed, it was 100% Pfizer, making it easy to word the survey question very specifically about the Pfizer vaccine trials.

Also, New Zealanders were vaccinated in a very short period, just prior to the survey. In late August 2021 New Zealand was last in the OECD in dosing rates but by December, when the survey was fielded, it had jumped into the top half of the OECD, with vaccinations rising by an average of 110 doses per 100 people in just over three months.

This rapid rise in vaccination was partly driven by mandates, for health, education, police, and emergency workers and also by a vaccine passport system that blocked the unvaccinated from most places. The mandates were strictly applied, and even people suffering adverse reactions after their first shot, such as Bell’s Palsy and pericarditis, still had to get the second shot. The vaccine passport law had gone through Parliament just prior to the survey, so the vaccines, and what was expected of them, should have been utmost in peoples’ minds.