COVID-19 vaccines are working in the real world

Here's everything you need to know this week.
Young person receiving vaccine from healthcare worker while wearing a mask.
Vaccines are taking center stage of COVID-19 news–but the pandemic is not over yet. CDC

Click here to see all of PopSci’s COVID-19 coverage.

Though the news this week about the AstraZeneca vaccine has been a roller coaster, the trajectory of the pandemic is still trending upwards. Case rates, though still hovering around the level of the second ‘peak’ back in July and August of 2020, appear to be staying fairly flat. And as vaccination rates continue to climb, we should continue to see infection rates drop—but only as long as we continue to be careful.

Some states are already beginning to lift restrictions. Getting vaccinated will mean that you can do some activities safely (seeing other loved ones who are vaccinated, for instance, or simply shopping in public with less fear), but we’re not quite out of the woods yet. And there’s still a lot going on in the world of COVID news. Here are some of the headlines you may have missed.

Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are highly effective in real-world conditions

Studies of vaccinated employees at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, UC San Diego Health, and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA show that getting COVID-19 after getting vaccinated is exceedingly rare. Of course, no vaccine is perfect, but it appears that the Pfizer and Modern vaccines (the type that these folks received) are holding up well in real-world conditions. That’s a crucial test since even the best-designed clinical trial can’t precisely mimic what happens in reality.

Of those who did get sick, many showed no actual symptoms, and those that did tended to have quite mild effects. That again confirms what early clinical trials showed: that even in cases where the vaccine didn’t completely prevent infection, it drastically cut down on the severity of the disease. Still, these findings don’t mean, at least right now, that vaccinated people can throw caution to the wind. However, it does mean that vaccination should provide you with solid protection—and a sense of real relief.

Pfizer is testing its vaccine in young children

The first trial participants in Pfizer’s new study on kids under 12 were vaccinated on Wednesday in an effort to understand the safety and efficacy of their mRNA COVID vaccine in young children. Moderna is also testing their vaccine in kids ages six months to 12 years. Both companies have already begun trials with kids 12 and up, and early results from those studies should come out in the next few weeks. AstraZeneca began testing in kids six months and older last month, while Johnson & Johnson is currently only testing in older children, but plans to extend trials to younger kids later.

[Related: Moderna is now testing its COVID-19 vaccine on kids. Here’s everything you need to know.]

Though children are generally at lower risk of getting COVID, and especially of getting a severe case, it’s unclear yet how serious the long-term ramifications might be from contracting the virus.

Results from these latest trials should come in sometime in the second half of the year, though it’s unclear exactly when. Pfizer reports that they hope to be vaccinating young kids early in 2022.

Puerto Rico has fared well in the pandemic

Unlike in the mainland states, Puerto Rico avoided politicizing COVID-19 early on, instead opting for strong, across-the-board measures like curfews, shutting down businesses, and issuing mask mandates. And those efforts paid off. Despite a fragile healthcare system, Puerto Rico avoided overwhelming their clinics and hospitals and have consistently had some of the lowest per capita COVID rates.

The territory is now reopening schools for the first time in more than a year. Vaccines are being steadily distributed, and their supply has just been upped from 40,000 to 100,000 doses a week. Overall, Puerto Rico has fared remarkably well, thanks in large part to a population that took COVID precautions seriously early on.