Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be a game-changer, but docs remain skeptical

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Pfizer is calling it a historic moment in the medical community. According to their latest Phase 3 clinical trial results, their vaccine candidate showed a 90 percent effectiveness rate among participants. However, doctors are urging people to remain healthy skeptics.

News 8 spoke with Dr. Elaine Hahn Le, chief medical officer at Healthline, who discussed why we should be cautiously optimistic about these results.

Gillis: Dr. Le. We have this breaking news that the Pfizer vaccine is 90% effective. The study results just came out. What are your thoughts on this?

Le: Well, if it’s true it’s fabulous. But most vaccines are not that high. I think it’s one of those situations in which the medical community has hopeful optimism, but has healthy skepticism because it is still considered very early data. We don’t know a lot about the Pfizer vaccine in terms of who was tested, what the patient populations were who were tested because obviously we’ve already seen COVID-19 affect different patient populations differently. 

Some people get a very severe illness and some people didn’t even realize they were infected at all. And so knowing who this vaccine is used in and tested in and the true rates of effectiveness in those populations would be really important because we want to know how well it works in the most vulnerable populations such as those who are over the age of 65, those who have other comorbidities…conditions like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. That will be really important to know. 

With that said what we do know is the sample size that they cited was still pretty small. It does automatically lend a lot of excitement because as we all know in clinical medicine…when we get excited about a treatment or prevention we’re talking about a sample size of multiple thousands of people–30, 40, 100,000 people. Because what we want to see is that not only do we want to see that the vaccine was proven to be effective in a broad population of people, regardless of whatever your demographic is–male, female, younger, older, ethnicity and race–we want to know it was safe, too. You want to know if you are a young woman of childbearing age that you can take the vaccine and know that it’s safe or that you’re going to give this vaccine to your child and know that it’s safe. We’re still early days and we don’t know that information about the Pfizer vaccine just yet. 

News 8’s medical reporter, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Gillis, D.Ed., is a classically trained medical physiologist and biobehavioral research scientist. She has been a health, medical and science reporter for over 5 years. Her work has been featured in national media outlets. You can follow her on Instagram @reportergillis and Facebook @DrMaryGillis.