Why you shouldn’t worry about which COVID-19 vaccine you’ll get

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 25, 2021

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How many people get the vaccine matters more than efficacy rates

By Gina DiPietro
Novant Health

There is one common question being asked as North Carolinians roll up their sleeves in the fight against COVID-19 — ‘Which vaccine am I getting?’

Curiosity is a natural reaction, but experts encourage people not to place too much emphasis on it. We should all focus instead on getting vaccinated in the first place, said Dr. David Priest, Novant Health senior vice president and chief safety and quality officer.

“Remember, the influenza vaccine has an effectiveness of 35% to 55%. So, the fact that we have three vaccines for COVID-19 that have an 82% or higher effectiveness rate against the most serious complications is unbelievably good news,” Priest said.

At this time, Novant Health patients will not know in advance which vaccine they’ll receive. The limited supply of all three vaccines means it’s not possible for patients to choose which brand of the vaccine they’d like to receive on a given day or time. That said, all patients are informed of which one will be administered at their appointment and the number of doses that will be needed.

Numbers aren’t ‘apples to apples’

The Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines vary slightly in efficacy, but here’s the bottom line: all the vaccines are highly effective in preventing COVID-19 hospitalization or worse, Priest said. The difference in their performance is not what’s most important, he added.

“Johnson & Johnson has a slightly lower efficacy, but you’ll remember it was tested and came out later than the other COVID-19 vaccines,” Priest said. “There were variants around the world that didn’t necessarily exist when the first two manufacturers began distribution, so the actual difference in efficacy may be less than those numbers suggest. It’s important to remember.”

Dr. Jerome Williams Jr., Novant Health senior vice president of consumer engagement, said it’s also worth noting that the vaccines were not compared to each other in clinical trials.

“You can’t really extrapolate one data point as it relates to efficacy to another trial, because it’s not comparing apples to apples,” Williams said. “The take-home point is that we all need to get vaccinated no matter which vaccine.”

Priest also recommended that everyone get the annual flu shot. Remember, it’s not the efficacy that matters. It’s how many people opt to receive it.

Getting vaccinated is the most important thing

While a vaccine’s efficacy is important, what’s equally important, “and in a lot of cases, even more important” is how many people get it, Priest said. If a small number of people get a very effective vaccine, it’s not going to make a dent in a community’s disease progression. But if every single person got it, it would make “a huge difference in disease burden.”

“What’s most important is that enough people get the COVID-19 vaccine. I would not split hairs about which product you’re getting,” Priest said. “If you have the opportunity, get one.”

With that in mind, there is new advice on how fully vaccinated individuals can safely interact with others. It’s the first set of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for this group of people. Since the vaccine isn’t yet available to everyone, most people should continue to wear masks, be socially distant and wash their hands.