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Weekend Long Reads: The Vaccine Efficacy Studies

by Kevin Schofield

Over the past 18 months, I’ve read well over a hundred research papers on COVID-19, treatments, and vaccines. This week’s “long read” is hands down the most informative of all of them.

One of the essential tenets of science is that it must be repeatable: Every time an event happens, we should expect the same result. In practice we often don’t see precisely the same result, even in laboratory conditions, because of experimental error, contamination, sampling error, unknown confounding factors, and bias (intentional or otherwise). That’s why in the world of science a single research study alone isn’t enough to establish new knowledge; the scientific community waits until other researchers have replicated the study and independently confirmed the results.

In our mad rush to save lives by developing treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, we have often substituted a single carefully crafted and skeptically reviewed clinical trial for the greater assurance that we would get with multiple complete studies — at least for the purposes of “emergency use authorization” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But with the passage of time, and the need to recertify the vaccines in multiple countries, there is now a substantial number of vaccine studies that have been published. Together they give us much higher confidence in our estimates of the effectiveness of the vaccines.

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