DC med school professor says benefits of coronavirus vaccines outweigh risks

With the risk of taking the coronavirus vaccines so low and the risk of the virus being high, a D.C. medical school professor said the benefits of taking the vaccines outweigh the risk.

The vaccines developed to protect against the coronavirus have efficacy rates that range from 90% to 94%, and that’s better than anyone expected, said Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“They’re extremely high — no one predicted that we would have seen vaccine efficacy this high,” Siegel said.

Siegel, who is co-investigator on the Moderna vaccine trial at the medical school, said the term efficacy refers to “the percent reduction in the likelihood of getting symptomatic COVID-19.”

Vaccines for influenza have efficacy rates that can vary year to year, sometimes as low as the 20% range, Siegel said.

By comparison, vaccines for hepatitis and measles — like the COVID-19 vaccines — have efficacy rates of 90% or more.

“These have been hugely important vaccines at preventing disease,” Siegel said.

While there’s tremendous excitement over the development and distribution of vaccines, Siegel said that doesn’t mean all the efforts at containing the disease, such as wearing masks, social distancing, handwashing, will go by the wayside.

“We have not yet established whether people might still be getting infected, but not getting symptomatic disease,” Siegel said.

So, until there is more data on whether someone who has been vaccinated could spread COVID-19 asymptomatically, “We are still recommending that despite getting vaccinated, you should still wear masks, so that you potentially are protecting someone who’s not been vaccinated,” Siegel said.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, told USA Today that he did not believe that Pfizer should split the distribution of its vaccines: using half now and withholding the rest to use for the same people who got the first dose in the vaccination regimen.

Instead, Gottlieb said all of the available vaccines should be distributed in one round, with the expectation that manufacturers can provide the second dose.

“My position is that we need to guarantee that everyone who gets the first dose is guaranteed the second dose,” Siegel said. “If we know that we’re only going to get 20 million doses, we can’t vaccinate 20 million people not knowing if there’s going to be more vaccine coming.”

With regard to the potential risks associated with the vaccines, Siegel said, “I mean nothing in life comes without any risk, but the risk from the vaccines is so low, and the risk from the virus is high enough that I think there is no question that people should be getting the vaccine.”

More Coronavirus news

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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