"Do vaccines work or not?”
Last week, I saw that query posted by a smart, open-minded conservative friend of mine on social media. It came in response to news that Los Angeles County decided to reimpose indoor mask mandates. Knowing this person, it may have been an earnest question or, more likely, a bit of sarcasm.
But with many Americans still unvaccinated, it deserves an answer.
Yes, the COVID-19 vaccines work.
That is the most direct, important takeaway. The Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots have done what they are supposed to do. They have helped protect millions of people across our state and country.
But my friend’s five-word tweet made me realize that lingering questions about the efficacy of vaccines has more to do with how people understand what it means for a vaccine to “work.”
To me, vaccines “work” when they protect the vast majority of recipients from life-altering and life-threatening illness. It means reducing the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 and its variants to a statistically insignificant number. It means ensuring that the severity of any potential infection is reduced and limited.
Unfortunately, many people seem to believe that to be considered to “work,” the vaccines must make every one of its recipients entirely immune to any COVID-19 strain. That definition is impractical, uninformed and dangerous.