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‘Which shot is best?’: Mayo doctor explains vaccine efficacies

More than half a million Minnesotans have now received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine; that’s about one in 10 people across the state.
Updated: Feb. 8, 2021 at 10:44 PM CST
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MANKATO, Minn. (KEYC) - It’s a question many of you are bringing to your primary care providers: “Which vaccine should I get?”

Experts at Mayo Clinic say Pfizer’s 95% efficacy and Moderna’s 94% efficacy are better than any widely-distributed vaccine in our lifetimes.

For perspective: the flu shot we receive every year averages around 45% efficacy, and still prevents widespread hospitalizations and deaths.

Lauren Andrego spoke to Ask Mayo Expert Dr. Robert Jacobson about what you can expect when it’s your time to get the shot.

Lauren Andrego: I’m wondering what questions you’ve gotten from patients regarding the differences in vaccines and their efficacies. What are you hearing and what are the concerns?

Dr. Robert Jacobson, co-chair, AskMayoExpert task group on immunizations: We’re hearing questions like, “Did the FDA cut corners in rushing to approve these vaccines?” And the answer to that is with neither vaccine did the FDA step away from its requirement for safety and efficacy data that they have for any of the vaccines they license.

“The two vaccines that are currently authorized, actually work so well that we’re talking about Pfizer having 95% efficacy and Moderna having 94% efficacy. And people might say, “well I should get the one that has 95 because that’s better than 94, right? And then they’re a little alarmed to hear of a third vaccine coming out that only has 85% efficacy, and only against moderate to severe disease. Actually, all of these percentages are amazingly good percentages.

“Year after year, I strongly recommend my colleagues and patients and their parents get the flu vaccine, and we typically get 45% efficacy out of that. And yet getting the flu vaccine makes all the difference in the world for our patients.”

LA: Can you explain why some people are getting one vaccine and some people are getting a different one?

RJ: “Right now, we have 333 million of us living in this country. And Pfizer and Moderna have delivered to the United States about 100 million doses each, which means that covers 50 million patients each. And the US is delivering these to its 50 states and territories who are then distributing it to hub organizations. Because the Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-deep freezing and liquid nitrogen, for the most part, only larger health care organizations, and particularly those with academic research institutions can really manage the ultra-deep cold. Where the Moderna vaccine is a bit more gentle and just uses our standard, clinical-grade freezers. So the states have to work with the health systems to figure out, “What do you have the capacity to take?

“Pfizer and Moderna are both going to deliver another 200 million doses each, with the intention of finishing those shipments by the middle of this year. That still covers about 300 million of us. We hope to have great news about vaccinating children under the age of 16. And hopefully then we’ll have vaccine for them as well. It feels like a slow process, but in the world of vaccine manufacturing and delivery, this is better than we’ve ever done with any vaccine.”

LA: What can you tell me about the vaccine efficacy for these new strains that we’re learning about, coming from abroad?

RJ: “These new strains, or variants, represent the rapid mutation that the virus has been undergoing since it first hit across the world in early January. These variants, particularly the variants that we see in the United Kingdom and South Africa and Brazil, actually represent changes in the genes of the virus that are causing the virus to become more transmissible. And in some cases, with some evidence, actually make you sicker. Now, early evidence shows the vaccines that we have still protect against these new variants. Perhaps not as well as they did with the original variant, but they certainly do protect. So, despite the news of the variants emerging, and now we have the variants here in our country, the vaccines we have that we’re currently using will be good against them.”

LA: Do you anticipate us getting to a point, here in southern Minnesota, where a patient would have the option to choose which vaccine they would like?

RJ: “I don’t think that we will in the first year or so. I can imagine, once we have gotten everyone vaccinated with their first round, we’re going to learn about boosters. We’re going to learn about if there’s additional vaccine doses you might need based on what you originally had, and the timing of what you had. We might learn about boosters specifically designed to handle variants that we might need. And there might get to be a point where your health care provider and your primary care site actually has vaccine on hand to vaccinate you, and can actually tailor it to your experience and what you need. But that’s easily a year from now. Right now, we’re in a pandemic that’s out of control, and we have some vaccine that we’re making available to the people who most need it and we can’t individualize.”

LA: What else do you want southern Minnesota to know tonight?

RJ: “I say everyone should connect with their primary care practices, particularly if they have the ability to connect electronically with the practices, they should make sure they’ve established their relationship, so that when it’s time for them to get their appointment, they get their invitation and they can respond to their appointment. The state is working and piloting ways to make the vaccine available to people. Staying in touch with Minnesota news sources such as your station and listening for when my age group or risk group has been sent out invitations.”

“When you get that invitation, take it. Don’t fool around and say “I’m waiting for another vaccine,” or “I’ll wait until next week.” This allocation is very limited and restrictive. Not opting in now will only delay things for you and will complicate things for us. If you have questions for your personal situation that you think really should affect whether you should say yes or not to the invitation (to be vaccinated), talk to your primary care provider now, and ask your questions. So you can be prepared when you get your invitation.”

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