The Pfizer vaccine study reveals a world much safer than we think
The Pfizer vaccine is 90% effective in preventing infection.
The bigger study news is that Corona is far less infectious and lethal than shown by public statistics.
Thoughtful risk assessment is the best strategy to assuage our pandemic fears.
“What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite.”
Bertrand Russell, Free Thought and Official Propaganda, 1922
Pharma company Pfizer released their positive Covid vaccine results early Monday morning and the media and financial worlds went into outer space.
Investors sold “stay at home” assets (like Zoom and Netflix) and bought those that will benefit from the end of the pandemic (like airlines and oil).
It all happened in just a few short minutes and the catalyst was a catchphrase from Pfizer’s press release (“more than 90% effective”), presumed to eventually bring the viral pandemic to heel.
Never mind that markets reversed some of these gains later in the week, this bombshell was taken as the main news of the day, and was celebrated accordingly.
And yet, there is something far more important lurking in the study results that has not come to the surface: the real Covid danger for most people is far, far less than previously imagined.
Pfizer is now in phase three of double blind clinical trials of the efficacy of the vaccine on humans.
This involves 39,000 healthy subjects, half of whom received two doses of the vaccine and the other half a placebo.
The results after a month showed that 85 of those given the placebo tested positive for Covid, while only 9 people in the vaccinated group were infected; thus, the 90% success rate.
While everyone in the media focuses on those who were vaccinated, there is actually more value in considering the experiences of the control group.
Those 85 people (out of almost 20,000 control subjects) are equivalent to an infection rate of just over 40 per million people per day (mpd). That might sound like a lot but it is rather low in the Time of Covid.
For comparison, Europeans and North Americans have seen an average positive Covid test rate of 150 per mpd at the same time as the study, almost four times higher.
Canada is on the low end at 38 per mpd, the US is mid-tier at 166 per mpd, France is high at 225 per mpd, and Czechia is off the charts at 357 per mpd.
The low Pfizer control group rate is even more notable when we consider that older subjects are over-included there (40% of the group compared to closer to 30% of the population) and researchers actively sought out those “at higher risk for acquiring COVID-19 (including, but not limited to, use of mass transportation, relevant demographics, and frontline essential workers)”.
The 40 per mpd infection rate is therefore even lower for normal healthy people who have a more typical risk of infection (which is most of us).
Part of the explanation for the lower control group rate is that the test for Covid in the study is more exacting than usual, with a requirement for a positive test and at least two telltale symptoms. Testing procedures around the world right now do not generally require any assessment of symptoms.
The study subjects are therefore not asymptomatic patients, but those who are actually diagnosed as ill.
A final element of the true but low danger of Covid revealed by the Pfizer study is that none of the 39,000 subjects experienced any “serious safety concerns”. This suggests there were no patient deaths and probably no pertinent hospitalizations, though Pfizer does not provide such detail.
By comparison, and at the same time as the study, the recorded average death rate for Covid in North America and Europe came to 1.8 per million people per day, for a total of 161,000 deaths.
We know already that Covid death numbers are highly correlated with vulnerable people who have other serious co-morbidities. Most of the deaths attributed to Covid have come from those who were seriously compromised or who were only one more complication away from their demise.
The study therefore underlines the fact that Covid mortality risk is negligible for normal healthy people.
This year has always been more about a social crisis and a mass reaction to perceived danger, than it has been about an unprecedented epochal public health emergency.
Almost all of the pandemic waves of contagion have peaked and declined in sixty days and it is the rare place that has had more than one exponential surge in hospitalizations or deaths.
The actual pandemic has been quite time limited, even though the perception has been of unending contagion (mostly because of vastly expanded testing, continuous media coverage, and the rolling regional impact of transmission).
So, facts on the ground have been far more reassuring than the fears in our heads, making this a collective mental battle that really will have no end until we come to grips with the actual dangers of the virus.
We should all therefore take heart that a random global study of 39,000 individuals showed low Covid infection rates, four times less than those created by oversensitive public tests, and no deaths or serious medical implications for normal healthy people.
Praying for a vaccine to save us is probably not a great use of time, compared to coming to the realization that the true risk is negligible and that any extraordinary danger may already have come and gone from most places.
After all, what is the value of a vaccine when the pandemic has passed and the vaccine acts to merely reduce infection risk from low to very low?
With this perspective, we can see that the hidden treasure is not in the vaccine, it is rather tucked away in our minds, freely available to us all with a bit of thoughtful effort.