What I hear in Pfizer’s promising vaccine news

Photo: Kena Betancur/Getty Images

I can’t resist offering a few quick takes on the latest Pfizer vaccine news: 90% efficacy is far better than even the most optimistic projections. An election analogy that captures the “margin of victory” — these are like California results for Biden/Harris, rather than Pennsylvania results.

Efficacy and safety

The 90% refers to preventing symptomatic disease (that is, fever, cough). But we don’t know yet how well this vaccine prevents severe symptoms that lead to hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and death. Knowing that will be key. It seems likely it will hold up well, but that still needs to be demonstrated.


Yash S. Huilgol
Robert M. Wachter, MD

While the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been disappointing and disjointed, one area the Trump administration got right was its support for telemedicine. In late March, the administration lifted the antiquated requirement that physicians licensed in one state cannot treat patients in another.

It is vital that this change be made permanent.


Robert M. Wachter, MD & Zoe M. Lyon

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, we were desperate to have a test — any test — to help sort out which patients with symptoms were infected with the coronavirus. Three months later, we face an entirely different problem: there is a bevy of tests — some for the virus, others for antibodies to the virus — and interpreting them has become increasingly confusing, to patients and clinicians alike.

With more testing and various versions of the two different types of tests, the confusion isn’t surprising. Last month’s “Can I fly?” or “Can I touch the mail?” questions have increasingly been replaced with questions like this: “My daughter tested positive, then negative, then…. What does that mean?”


The UCSF Chair of Medicine says there’s no debate: Masks are a simple and effective strategy to save lives

Photo: Newsday LLC/Getty Images

One of the amazing parts of the Covid-19 crisis has been seeing new issues crop up constantly: the (largely false) dichotomy between health and the economy, the accuracy of the death count, antibody testing, the effectiveness of various medications (and, yes, bleach). The list goes on.

Robert Wachter, MD

Professor & Chair, Dept of Medicine, UCSF. What happens when poli science major becomes an academic physician. Thinks/writes on digital, quality, safety, Covid.

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