Why COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy Does NOT Matter!

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The public is obsessed over COVID-19 vaccine efficacy rates, but the truth is – they don’t actually matter!

Find out what COVID-19 vaccine efficacy really mean, and what really MATTERS MORE!

Updated @ 2021-04-17 : Added a new Breakthrough Calculation section, and updated the Vaccine Efficacy section.

Originally posted @ 2021-03-07


Vaccine Efficacy vs Effectiveness : What’s The Difference?

Vaccine efficacy is the reduction in disease (in percentage) that occurs in a vaccinated group under optimal conditions, compared to an unvaccinated group.

Do not confuse it with vaccine effectiveness, which is the real world ability of the vaccine to prevent the disease.

Vaccine effectiveness may be lowered by underlying chronic conditions, medication, age, and even how the vaccine is stored and administered.

Recommended : Overview of Vaccine Efficacy and Vaccine Effectiveness (WHO)

Why COVID-19 Vaccine Efficacy Does NOT Matter!


Vaccine Efficacy : What Does It Mean?

The Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines passed their Phase 3 trials with 94% to 95% efficacy rates, but what does that mean?

The efficacy rate is actually a calculation of the vaccine’s ability to prevent symptomatic COVID-19 infection, based on the clinical trial data and the COVID-19 attack rate.

The public often miss the importance of the COVID-19 attack rate, and therefore misunderstand the vaccine efficacy rate.

For example, in a trial involving 100,000 vaccinated participants and a COVID-19 attack rate of 1%, here is the difference between perception and reality :

Breakthrough Infections
Perception Reality
95% 5,000 50
90% 10,000 100
85% 15,000 150
80% 20,000 200
75% 25,000 250

While the public look at a 75% efficacy rate and think that it means 25% of those vaccinated will still get infected, the truth is only 0.25% of those vaccinated will get infected, with a 1% attack rate.

This is why we should leave the science to the professionals, and not pretend that a few hours of looking up Google will replace years of actual study and experience.

Recommended : COVID-19 Vaccine : Which Should YOU Choose?


Vaccine Efficacy : How To Calculate Breakthrough Rate?

Now, you might expect the breakthrough rate to be calculated simply by deducting the efficacy rate from 100%, like so :

  • 95% vaccine efficacy = 5% breakthrough infections
  • 75% vaccine efficacy = 25% breakthrough infections
  • 50% vaccine efficacy = 50% breakthrough infections

However, the vaccine breakthrough infection rate is actually calculated by this formula :

(100% – Vaccine Efficacy %) x Attack Rate

Because the attack rate for COVID-19 is relatively low at about 1%, the expected breakthrough rate is much lower than you would expect.

Breakthrough Rate
Perception Reality
95% 5% 0.05%
90% 10% 0.10%
85% 15% 0.15%
80% 20% 0.20%
75% 25% 0.25%


Vaccine Efficacy Blinds Us To What Matters More!

The public is obsessed over COVID-19 vaccine efficacy rates, but the truth is – they don’t actually matter!

To be clear, COVID-19 vaccine efficacy is important, just not to us. That’s because it refers to the vaccine’s ability to protect against any symptomatic COVID-19 infection.

Regulatory bodies around the world set a minimum threshold of 50% efficacy against symptomatic infection for the approval of any COVID-19 vaccine.

However, that has confused many people into thinking that the authorities are taking shortcuts in giving us vaccines that barely work.

Come on – 50% efficacy? That’s like rolling the dice at the roulette table, right? That’s really NOT the case.

We prepared this table to show you how misleading efficacy rates are.

COVID-19 Vaccine Protection Against
Pfizer Comirnaty 95.0% 100% 100%
Gamaleya Sputnik V 91.6% 100% 100%
Moderna mRNA-1273 94.1% 100% 100%
AstraZeneca AZD1222 62% ~ 90% 100% 100%
Sinopharm BBIBP-CorV 79% ~ 86% 90% 100%
Sinovac Biotech 50.65% 83.7% 100%
J&J Janssen COVID-19 66.0% 85% 100%
CanSino Biologics 65.7% 90.98% 100%


Forget Efficacy, Focus On Severe Disease + Death!

The truth is all approved vaccines will protect you against severe disease, and prevent you from dying from COVID-19.

It would be really nice if you get a vaccine that protects you against even mild COVID-19, but not getting killed by it sounds pretty awesome to us!

Ultimately, whether we decide to get vaccinated should NOT depend on the vaccine’s efficacy, but its ability to protect us against severe disease or death.

Irrespective of what vaccine you receive, the table shows that they will protect you against DEATH and greatly protect you against severe COVID-19 disease.

So, instead of arguing over which COVID-19 vaccine is better, and demanding the right to choose, just take the FIRST vaccine you can get, and COMPLETE it!

Why Thousands Of Vaccinated Israelis Got COVID-19 Anyway

Think of the COVID-19 vaccine as body armour. When you are in a firefight, do you really want to wait until you find the body armour you prefer, or would you rather wear the first one you come across?

No matter how “pathetic” or “ratty” the first body armour you find “looks” to you, it will definitely protect you better than a plain t-shirt, won’t it?

So take the first COVID-19 vaccine you are offered, and complete it. It will protect you against death and severe COVID-19 disease!


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Dr. Adrian Wong has been writing about tech and science since 1997, even publishing a book with Prentice Hall called Breaking Through The BIOS Barrier (ISBN 978-0131455368) while in medical school.

He continues to devote countless hours every day writing about tech, medicine and science, in his pursuit of facts in a post-truth world.


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