Penn doctor says COVID-19 vaccine benefits being undersold

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A local infectious disease expert says the COVID-19 vaccine is our ticket out of the pandemic, but the benefits are being undersold.

Dr. Aaron Richterman at Penn Medicine says many times, scientists and doctors are cautious about their statements, but the evidence, the data backing up these vaccines speaks for itself.

"I think the first important thing to know is that we have gold standard, A-plus evidence, our best kind of evidence that the vaccines, the mRNA vaccines Moderna and Pfizer that are becoming available are among the very best vaccines we've ever tested," said Dr. Richterman.

He was elated when he looked over the data from clinical trials testing the vaccines and people in the community should be just as excited.

Messages about side effects, rare potential allergic reactions and other uncertainties are important, but he says shouldn't over-shadow the benefits of the vaccine.

"Getting this vaccine is going to be the ticket to gather with your loved ones, to work safely, to get out and get life back to normal again," said Dr. Richterman.

And while nothing is 100% effective, 95% efficacy is close to the best. Even if you're infected, studies show the vaccine can prevent serious complications.

Dr. Richterman says in the studies, out of 32,000 people vaccinated, only one got a severe case of COVID-19 and had to be hospitalized.

Still, as doses are distributed slower than expected, he says the focus has to be on protecting the unvaccinated, especially as the more easily-spread U.K. variant picks up steam in the United States. That means continuing to wearing a mask, keeping distance, avoiding crowds.

"And you know when it's their turn to be ready and stand up and take a shot, that's my opinion based on the data that we really should be very excited about this vaccine," said Dr. Richterman.

For people who are vaccinated, it will clearly help protect them, but there are some questions about if they were to get a mild case of COVID-19, could they still pass it on? Experts say it's not likely, but it's not guaranteed either, that's why they want people to continue taking precautions until the majority of the population is protected.
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