The Delta variant is the most common cause of new COVID-19 infections in the US, the UK, and elsewhere.
Delta has mutations that can help it avoid the immune response.
Four studies suggest vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca work against Delta, to varying degrees.
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The highly-infectious Delta coronavirus variant is causing a surge in COVID-19 cases around the world, from the US to India. The variant has mutations that help it partially escape the immune response produced by vaccines.
The data for how well COVID-19 vaccines work against the Delta variant isn’t clear cut.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday, July 6, that COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca worked well against severe COVID-19 caused by Delta, in comparison to other variants. But the vaccines may offer less protection against symptomatic illness – rather than severe disease – caused by Delta compared to other variants, it said.
Here’s how much protection COVID-19 vaccines give you against symptomatic Delta infections, based on the best available data from four studies.
UK study: Pfizer 88% effective, AstraZeneca 60%
A UK-based study from May found that two doses of either AstraZeneca or Pfizer’s vaccine were highly effective against the Delta variant, from two weeks after the second dose.
Canadian study: Pfizer 87% effective after two doses, Moderna 72% after one dose
A Canadian study posted on Saturday, July 3, found that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine worked as well against Delta as they did against the Alpha variant, which was previously dominant in the US.
The study hasn’t been scrutinized by experts in a peer-review.
Israel study: Pfizer 64% effective after two doses
The Israel Ministry of Health said on Monday, July 6, that Pfizer’s vaccine worked slightly less well against the Delta variant than previous estimates. The number of people who got infected during the study period was small, and the figure may have included asymptomatic infections.
Scotland study: Pfizer 79% effective after two doses, 60% for AstraZeneca.
A Scotland-based study published as a letter to the Lancet medical journal on June 14 found that Pfizer’s vaccine offered “very good” protection against the Delta variant.
Why the numbers vary
Percentage efficacy for vaccines is the proportion of people that get full protection after a vaccine. With 80% efficacy, 80% of people have full protection, and 20% don’t.
It becomes harder to measure how well vaccines work in the real world compared with trials, because you can’t control who gets vaccinated and who doesn’t. Other differences between the two groups could influence the risk of getting sick from COVID-19. For example, those who chose not to get vaccinated could also be more likely to put themselves in risky situations that may expose them to the virus.
The numbers can also vary because they depend on numerous factors, including what you’re measuring, when you measure it, the age of the population you’re measuring it in, and whether there’s been previous COVID-19 infections.
Stephen Evans, professor of medical statistics at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told Insider that in general, the more severe the illness caused by Delta, the better the COVID-19 vaccines appeared to work against it. But the evidence on vaccines’ effectiveness wasn’t strong, he said.
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