CDC: Real world data show Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines are 90% effective at preventing infection

  • A new study from the CDC is some of the first evidence we have that vaccinated people don’t transmit COVID-19 often.
  • The study included nearly 4,000 healthcare and frontline workers who had mRNA shots from Pfizer or Moderna.
  • The shots were 80% effective 2 weeks after the first dose, and 90% effective 2 weeks after both. 
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On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released some of the first real-world evidence that mRNA vaccines are 90% effective at preventing COVID-19 infections, even asymptomatic cases.

The CDC study, released March 29 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, featured data from nearly 4,000 first responders and frontline workers in the US who received the vaccines between December and March.

They found that, two weeks after receiving the first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer or Moderna, recipients were about 80% protected from infection. Getting both doses offered significant protection against COVID-19 — around 90%.

What’s more, vaccinated people rarely transmitted the virus to others.

“This study shows that our national vaccination efforts are working,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement, shortly before the study was released.

“These findings should offer hope to the millions of Americans receiving COVID-19 vaccines each day and to those who will have the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated in the weeks ahead. The authorized vaccines are the key tool that will help bring an end to this devastating pandemic.”

Some of the first real-world data to show these vaccines work very well

Researchers from the CDC looked at 3,950 healthcare employees and frontline workers who self-tested weekly (via nasal swabs) for COVID-19 between December 2020 and March 2021.

They found that two weeks after the first shot, participants were 80% protected from infections. Two weeks after the second shot, that coverage soared further to 90%. The finding mirrors what was seen in the clinical trials studying these vaccines, which included tens of thousands of people around the world.

The new CDC study is some of the first real-world data we have that the new mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna prevent all kinds of infections, even asymptomatic ones. It confirms what many scientists have long suspected: the COVID-19 vaccines don’t just protect the vaccinated, they help protect those around them from infection too.

Previous studies found similarly small rates of infection among vaccinated people: 0.04% of vaccinated people tested positive for COVID-19 in a study from UCLA and San Diego Health, and 0.2% of vaccinated people tested positive in a similar study from the University of Texas Medical Center. In Minnesota, approximately 0.01% of fully vaccinated people have gotten COVID-19 so far.

Experts have stressed it’s unclear how durable the protection from a first shot would be without the second, which is why it’s important to get the second vaccine dose on time. 

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