The real world effectiveness of the Moderna and Pfizer (mRNA) vaccines appears to be sinking like a stone.
As a family physician, I spend my days dispensing advice. I mean, there’s the occasional cast, skin biopsy, or shot, but most of my patients are seeing me for medical counsel. Never have I been asked about one subject so much as the Covid-19 vaccines, and never have I seen so much doubt and confusion among a group of smart, well-educated people. Interpreting the reality of the effectiveness of these vaccines is complicated: it is waning with time, weakened against delta, unknown when coupled with prior infection, and may not be improved with a booster – but there is new, often murky, data emerging every day. Speaking the truth about the vaccines, however, should not be that hard. We have to be willing to adapt to new data, even when it does not fit neatly into prior messaging.
That’s where our institutions went astray. I understand the desire of our public health officials, spearheaded by the CDC, to instill confidence in the Covid-19 vaccines; they remain the most expedient path to minimize the suffering inflicted by this pandemic. However, by taking on the role of no-nuance vaccine cheerleaders, they left everyone in a worse situation.
Patients and doctors looking to the CDC for guidance in decision-making receive low quality or dated information. The mainstream media is stuck between reporting public health dictates as valid, while being unable to resist doom-and-gloom reports of vaccine “failures” that sell ad space. The obvious gap between “what the CDC says” and “what we see, hear and read” has left a large space for grifters, self-styled experts, and conspiracy theorists to thrive, especially among the large group of vaccine-hesitant (often vaccine-terrified) Americans. The whole thing might have gone better had we stuck to telling the truth as we knew it.
What follows is the truth about the Covid-19 vaccines, as I see it, from the data in hand right now. It is often inconvenient, especially for someone like me, who preferred the easy days of being a vaccine cheerleader when the initial trial data emerged. Do I still recommend a Covid-19 vaccine for the vast majority of my patients? Yes. It just takes a couple extra minutes to discuss now. Most importantly, if I speak the truth now, my patients will be more inclined to trust me later. So let’s see where we really stand:
Let’s stop pretending the vaccines are 90% effective and breakthrough cases are “uncommon.”