Vaccine effectiveness predictions

In light of the two recent situations in which fully vaccinated friends have gotten COVID-19 (see Maybe it is time for that booster shot? and Why is it still almost impossible to schedule a COVID-19 test? (at least in Maskachusetts)), I think it is time to look at what #Science said six months ago. “One year or 5? Doctors and drug companies increasingly disagree about when we’ll need COVID-19 booster shots” (Business Insider, June 16, 2021):

Insider spoke with nine leading experts, who took their best guesses about how long vaccine protection may last. Those predictions were quite a bit longer than what pharmaceutical companies suggest: Some experts said boosters probably won’t be necessary for another one to five years, while others questioned whether the general public will ever need another round of shots.

Early studies also suggest that the mRNA shots from Pfizer and Moderna offer more robust protection than natural immunity from an infection.

“Vaccines, actually, at least with regard to SARS-CoV-2, can do better than nature,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious-disease expert, said in May.

“If I had to look at my crystal ball, it’s probably not sooner, hopefully, than a year after being vaccinated, for the average adult,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s biologics center, said during a recent webinar.

Other experts think protection may last far longer. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, estimates it could be three to five years. “I would predict that protection will last for a few years — protection as I define it, which is protection against severe to critical disease,” Offit told Insider last month.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla estimated in April that people would likely need booster shots within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated. That’d be as early as December for some in the US.

From University of Colorado, February 24, 2021, quoting the director of epidemiology for the Pandemic Response Office at CU Boulder:

… we know that the vaccine efficacy lasts at least eight to 10 months. But immune cell—called T-lymphocytes as well as B-lymphocytes—can stick around in the body for years, breaking into action quickly if the body ever encounters the same virus again. So, it’s likely that protection from severe disease and hospitalization could last for many years.

Two months after the vaccines were authorized for emergency use, in other words, scientists actually knew for certain that protection would last for 8-10 months.

“Underselling the Vaccine” (NYT, January 18, 2021):

Although no rigorous study has yet analyzed whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, it would be surprising if they did. “If there is an example of a vaccine in widespread clinical use that has this selective effect — prevents disease but not infection — I can’t think of one!” Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard has written in The New England Journal of Medicine. (And, no, exclamation points are not common in medical journals.) On Twitter, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California, San Francisco, argued: “Please be assured that YOU ARE SAFE after vaccine from what matters — disease and spreading.”

Readers: Any favorite predictions from earlier in 2021 that you can find? One of the most interesting things about coronaplague is that Americans consider a discipline that is unable to make accurate predictions to be a “science”.

28 thoughts on “Vaccine effectiveness predictions

  1. Am I wrong? It seems that breakthrough cases are happening all the time. They do seem to be milder, and hopefully are preventing long haul.
    Where are the numbers? It seems like this is being hidden from us. In Southern California, by spring of last year, 50% of people had already had it. Who are the cases right now? Vaccinated? Recovered? Both? Fresh victims? (How many people are left that haven’t been exposed or vaccinated) It does seem like sterilizing immunity is definitely not a thing.

    • The “breakthrough” cases are milder simply because the virus, just like any other virus before it, evolves towards more infectious and less dangerous.

      Note how you do not see any actual “in the wild” numbers about severity of cases in vaxxed vs unvaxxed. If vaccines indeed offered significany protection these numbers woud’ve been flaunted by every journo and his dog. All you hear is endless repetition of the vaxx manufacturers’ claims.

    • averros, SuperMike: for any virus, even if it doesn’t evolve, I think that the cases become milder because the people who are susceptible to being killed by the virus were killed in the first couple of seasons.

    • The breakthrough cases are milder for the same reason that repeat cases are: repeated exposure to the same pathogen is less dangerous, as there’s already some immunity. Even if the immunity is waning, it takes time for it to wane completely.

      The evolutionary explanation (the virus is evolving to be less virulent) has never been more than pop epidemiology, AFAIK. I’d be happy to be corrected and see some references saying otherwise.

    • QC, the virus that caused influenza pandemic of 2018 that lasted for 2 years, now commonly known as seasonal flu.

    • LordP: Thanks for that second one, especially, from official government-run VOA. It combines an MD (like Dr. Jill Biden, M.D.) talking about “the science” with a local Covidcrat wondering how heretics will be hunted down and exterminated with a Federal Covidcrat denying the power of evolution (the vaccines can crush any variants).

      The science on this is pretty clear. Vaccinated people rarely get sick and don’t do much transmitting,” Brown University School of Public Health Dean Ashish Jha wrote on Twitter.

      “Wow,” said former Baltimore Public Health Commissioner Leana Wen, who had criticized CDC’s previous guidance as too cautious. “This does speak to the power of vaccines, but how can we be sure those around us are vaccinated? Not sure we all trust an honor code.”

      Walensky also noted that new research published in the past couple of weeks has shown how effective the vaccines are in the real world, not just in controlled clinical trials, and how they even prevent infection with the variants circulating in the United States. And in the rare cases in which vaccinated people still get infected, their infections are milder and are less likely to spread to others than infections in unvaccinated people.

      ———— and to wrap it up, we find out that the journalist is also a hero and scientist

      Steve Baragona is an award-winning multimedia journalist covering science, environment and health. He spent eight years in molecular biology and infectious disease research before deciding that writing about science was more fun than doing it. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a master’s degree in journalism in 2002.

  2. If the vaccines work what is going on in the world? And with majority vaxxed and many others recovered shouldn’t we have herd immunity, or is talking about herd immunity a thought crime now?

  3. I don’t have any pithy quotes from last year at my fingertips, but I know that anyone who took immunology at a halfway-decent University back when people were interested in learning #Science and not the Social Justice Flavor of the Month knew that a long-lasting preventive vaccine to an airborne coronavirus was probably impossible. And all these jokers should have known it as well. This is literally Immunology 101. Heads should be ROLLING.

    • I’ll look for a few prognostications tonight. In the meantime, enjoy the horripilating classic: “Some Heads are Gonna Roll” – Judas Priest, “Defenders of the Faith” – 1984.

      “The power-mad freaks who are ruling the earth
      Will show how little they think you’re worth
      With animal lust they’ll devour your life
      And slice your word to bits like a knife
      One last day burning hell fire
      You’re blown away…
      If the man with the power
      Can’t keep it under control

      Some heads are gonna roll
      Some heads are gonna roll
      Some heads are gonna roll
      Some heads are gonna roll “

  4. A few points:

    1. The NYT is now regularly reporting statistics related to illness severity of the vaxed vs. the unvaxed. There is likely some selection bias, but it shows a very strong difference that is likely far more significant than the bias. The vaccines make a very significant difference in severity and a less but still significant difference in transmission.

    2. It is true that the usefulness of scientific models is gauged by scientists by their predictive power, but it is a common misconception that “science” is about those models being right. Rather, the scientific method is about a greater, not less, willingness to discard models that are found to be less predictive. Thus, “following the science”, particularly for novel phenomena like COVID-19 often means changing one’s strategy depending on changes in understanding. Science, particularly about new phenomena, is by nature dynamic, and mocking scientists for changing their mind reflects a misunderstanding of science. Mocking predictions for Delta because they aren’t also true for Omicron or for regions where people latch onto conspiracy theories and resist recommended mitigations is particularly wrong. Japan has almost no COVID-19 mortality, despite an aged population. Some of this may be due to lower obesity, but not all of it. There are tradeoffs for sure (I haven’t been able to travel to there for two years). But it’s an example of the effectiveness of a society strongly “following the science”.

    3. While there is indeed strong evolutionary pressure for viruses to become more infectious, it is also a common misconception that viruses always evolve to become less severe. As Phil points out there is a strong effect of the target population selectively losing vulnerable individuals (which has been happening with COVID-19). And if a virus selectively kills certain groups of reproductive age people, the target gene pool will evolve, making the impact less severe (which has not as far as we know been happening with COVID-19). And finally some viruses that kill too quickly do face evolutionary pressure towards extinction or becoming more mild. But that effect is nonlinear. As long as significant transmission happens before death, there is much less evolutionary pressure on the virus itself to become more mild. COVID-19 mostly spreads amongst young people without killing them, and there is also significant transmission before symptoms (if any) that would cause mobility and transmission to decline. COVID-19’s tendency to be severe and kill the elderly while mostly sparing reproductive age people and in many cases going unnoticed amongst mobile young people is a stable strategy and there is little evolutionary pressure for that to change.

    COVID-19 has significantly lowered human longevity and there is a moral imperative for us to be try to find ways to reverse that trend. There is plenty to debate about ways to do that with the least inconvenience and without causing paradoxical harm. But let’s not make the mistake of advocating for doing nothing (which is immoral) or mocking those who are doing the best scientists know, even if what that is changes as we learn.

    • How does #FollowTheScience explain dramatically different results of such following say in the case of Portugal ? Portugal is 89% percent doubly vaccinated, and it’s recent daily infection count stands at 5,000 cases vs Japan’s mere 181. Yet, Japans vaccination rate is lower than that of Portugal, at 78% percent doubly vaccinated. The difference becomes even starker of course if one considers per 100,000 recent infection ratios in both countries.

      No doubt other factors play a more significant role than just #FollowTheScience that seems stuck on multiple vaccinations and lock downs as the only possible solutions.

    • GP: The people here questioning #Science mostly do not mind inevitable errors along the way. They do mind a) the presentation of current #Science as “facts” and b) that weekly policies are being implemented based on those “facts”.

      > COVID-19 has significantly lowered human longevity and there is a moral imperative for us to be try to find ways to reverse that trend.

      That has been disputed many times (there have always been years of excess mortality before COVID-19) and the countries with very high fatalities in spring 2020 or winter 2020/2021 are doing better now than “perfect” countries like Germany or Austria.

      What does Germany do in response? What any politician would do: Lie to his/her/zir/their subjects.

      Before the fall 2021 election, both candidates Merkel and Scholz brazenly stated: There will never be a vaccine mandate!

      Now, after the election and the recent COVID-19 outbreaks (which are due to the fact that borders are open and the vaccinated run around like royalty, behaving like COVID-19 didn’t exist), both are screaming for a general vaccine mandate.

    • 1. NYT has been caught blatantly lying and creating “facts” out of thin air so many times that it takes a willfully retarded to believe anything they print. It’s as simple as that.

      2. While creating models which turn out to be wrong is a part of normal scientific process, willfully and knowingly representing outputs of unvalidated models (even after it’s obvious they are totally wrong!) as some kind of scientific “truth” is simply fraud.

      3. You’re missing the fact that worse illness is basically the same as stronger immune reaction as far as viral reproduction is concerned. Which means that strains which cause strong illness are worse at escaping the immune system, and thus are much less effective at spreading even if they don’t kill carriers. There is a strong selective pressure towards milder illness. Every single pandemic in human history ended up with pathogens creating herd immunity (if the immunity is long-lasting and pathogen is not evolving fast enough) OR evolving towards mild, subclinical infection which effectively suppresses bad strains.

      The really dangerous strains are basically of zoonotic origin, poorly adapted to humans.

    • It is laughable to assert that human genome has mutated since late 2019 start of coronavirus pandemic. Deaths from pandemics have a lot to do chance and local circumstances, mental component being of uttermost important. Individuals from same families under different circumstances and with different mindsets reach differently to diseases,. I have some circumstantial evidence in my family tree to support that. Genetic component is of course is important but it does not change in 2 years.

    • Gill: When my med school professor friends looked at the U.S. media in the spring of 2020 they predicted that the physicians and public health officials who were being quoted, cloaking what was necessarily ignorance (nobody had ever tried to stop a respiratory coronavirus with shutdowns and masks for the general public and therefore nobody could have possibly said with certainty whether such interventions were harmful or helpful in the long run) would do permanent damage to the public perception of scientists and science.

      (These guys also said that it will be years before we know whether mass vaccination of people under 50 was harmful or helpful.)

      I think my friends were only partly right about what would happen to perceptions of science. The people who profited from lockdowns and masks (rich people, government workers paid at 100% for not working, university professors paid at 100% for Zooming it in 6 hours/week, et al.) simply never noticed the contradictions, reversals, and failures to make accurate predictions (e.g., Peru, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia being used as examples of lockdown and mask orders and then ending up at or near the top of ). These folks actually developed a higher opinion of #Science, which had enabled them to get much richer without even leaving the house.

      The losers from lockdowns and masks, e.g., small business owners, essential workers, those without college degrees and desk jobs readily transferable to Zoom, did not develop a contempt for science in general. They didn’t say “The physicists and engineers who designed and got it to Mars are liars and pinheads.” They didn’t say “Harvey Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles Rice shouldn’t have gotten the Novel for discovering the Hepatitis C virus because they fooled themselves and found the wrong virus.”

      The skepticism was limited to a group of people who called themselves scientists, but who were, in fact, simply guessing and, as it happens, mostly guessed wrong. Lockdown, mask order, and vaccine order “scientists” can best be compared to San Francisco Bay Area progressives. The progressives claim that they know how to create social justice, eliminate poverty, eliminate homelessness, etc. Yet in an all-progressive society, the San Francisco Bay Area itself, they’ve failed to do any of these things that they claim to know how to do. In fact, they have tent cities, huge racial disparities in educational performance and wealth, etc. They’ve failed at 100 percent of the things that they say they’re great at. The analogy in the coronaplague world is that the places that were entirely turned over to the “scientists” are home to top-of-the-charts cumulative death rates and/or raging plagues right now despite nearly every adult being vaccinated.

      (Separately, “COVID-19 has significantly lowered human longevity”? Someone forgot to tell the actuaries in the North American life insurance industry! See and and ))

    • “It is laughable to assert that human genome has mutated since late 2019”.

      Is it really the claim ? I thought I misread what was intended to be said because otherwise the statement is beyond ridiculous.

    • perplexed: I think Gill was saying that human genome has NOT evolved. “And if a virus selectively kills certain groups of reproductive age people, the target gene pool will evolve, making the impact less severe (which has NOT as far as we know been happening with COVID-19)” (emphasis added)

      COVID-19 didn’t kill enough people who were still in their life insurance years to change rates, much less kill people who were just about to have children. But coronapanic could be causing humans to evolve. For example, maybe compliance is considered attractive to mates and therefore people who stay in their bunkers, wear masks, wash their hands, and praise Fauci will have higher reproductive success. The next generation, therefore, could be even more timid than the current crop of young adults.

    • Yes Ivan and Philip, you are both right. I read the comment too fast. ” While there is indeed strong evolutionary pressure for viruses to become more infectious, it is also a common misconception that viruses always evolve to become less severe. As Phil points out there is a strong effect of the target population selectively losing vulnerable individuals (which has been happening with COVID-19). And if a virus selectively kills certain groups of reproductive age people, the target gene pool will evolve, making the impact less severe (which has not as far as we know been happening with COVID-19). ” I took it as contrasting random virus mutations and selections of strains with lower probability to be targeted with “vaccines” and treatments with future effects of human evolution. I think RNA virus wins on both mutation and adaptation counts hands down. I did not interpret Philip comments that those most affected by coronavirus died already as having any evolutionary pressure effects because of median age of those who died, as Philip noted. Regarding sexual selection of Faucism-compliant mates, it seems to happen mostly for Karens and their mates, I noticed that; but by nature on Karenhood that group is not bound to produce many of offspring and affect humankind genome as a whole. But if as Musk stated birth rates fall universally, which is not obvious for me, better then average educated Karens of both sexes bound to make their impact on human genome.

    • If one is being pedantic, a human evolves by changing DNA in some cells every time he gets infected. That’s how antibodies are created for novel pathogens. Look up VDJ recombination and clonal selection.

      So, yes, the tinfoil brigade members which say thay mRNA vaccines change one’s DNA are technically correct.

    • averros, this is true for how many viruses affect human DNA, pardon RNA but sometimes DNA. I read that fragment of old viruses could be found in genome of other larger species. Not sure how human genome has been affected by viruses. I do not think that there is real data on how mRNA “vaccines” genetic engineering is passed along generations but the fact that new booster is required for each season is encouraging in the sense that whatever changes are there they are not what their creators meant it to be.

  5. For lightening the mood, I recommend this article from the fine British state television about the imminent Omicron catastrophe:

    We have:

    – No white males in important positions in pictures.

    – Khan wearing an ill fitting mask.

    – The only person wearing a fitting KN-95 mask is Asian (as usual).

    – Khan identifying the culprits: “It is still the case that in some pockets of London there are black Londoners, there are Muslim Londoners, there are Jewish Londoners, there are Eastern European Londoners, who still haven’t had a vaccine.”

    • Anon: Thanks for the BBC link. It is interesting to me primarily because of the faith in bureaucracy and the power of human leadership to overcome a respiratory virus. Omicron could be dangerous. But a powerful leader has declared a “major incident” and therefore, presumably, the virus will soon be put in its place by government action.

      It is fascinating to see Khan first blame the unvaccinated for why nobody in London will be able to get hospital care and then to remind us that it is Blacks (the British are unable to capitalize this word properly?), Muslims, Jews, and Eastern Europeans who are unvaccinated.

    • I’ve wondered this many times: Hospitals have a financial incentive to keep ICU utilization near 100%. COVID-19 seems relatively lucrative, since the main procedure is ventilation and not much else.

      So when in doubt, put someone on a ventilator. In the graphs we also see hospitals claiming to be overwhelmed while fatalities are far lower than in the 2020/2021 winter outbreaks.

      If giving oxygen is the main treatment, why not do so in a field hospital. People might prefer an oxygen bottle in a private (heated) tent in nature to an ICU. Plenty of fresh air from the outside and silence.

    • Anon: No need for tents. The US has a vast acreage of empty retail space. Consider that state governors made it per se illegal to operate retail stores in the spring of 2020 (unless you were selling marijuana and alcohol, in which case you were exempt due to being “essentially”). This came in top of an existing oversupply.

  6. This is an admonishment from CNN (!) from September 2020 not to rush the vaccine:

    “One, the vaccine may not be safe. Two, if it is not safe, people will lose faith in vaccines. Three, if a vaccine doesn’t offer complete protection, people will have a false sense of security and increase their risk.

    Basically, while Trump was president, CNN has been saying the same things as this blog.

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