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Post claiming vaccinated people are more susceptible to COVID-19 variants is misleading

Published on Fri 14 May 2021 at 06:33

Social media posts, based on a recent study conducted in Israel on the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on the South African variant of the coronavirus, have been fuelling vaccine hesitancy in India.

By  Jisha Krishnan

Are vaccinated people more susceptible to COVID-19 than the unvaccinated population? Social media posts, based on a recent study conducted in Israel, have been fuelling vaccine hesitancy in India over the last couple of weeks.

Mainstream media has also reported on the study conducted by the Tel Aviv University that found “a South African variant of the Coronavirus affects vaccinated people 8 times more than those who are unvaccinated”.

Does this mean that vaccines are not just ineffective, but also dangerous?


“The post may be somewhat misleading,” noted Dr. Siddharth Sridhar, clinical assistant professor at The University of Hong Kong. While the study did discover “somewhat higher chances of finding SA variants among vaccinated compared to unvaccinated people in Israel”, the sample size was very small.

“The study only had ~ 9 SA variant cases in total (8 in vaccinated people and 1 in unvaccinated people) and that gave rise to the 8 times more headline,” explains the clinical virologist. Also, the study has not been peer-reviewed.

Incidentally, while the study claimed that the coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa can break through the protection provided by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, the vaccine manufacturers issued a press release confirming high efficacy and no serious safety concerns through up to six months following second dose of vaccination. However, these were only preliminary findings.

“So the simple reality is that the real-world effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the SA variant is still a matter of active investigation. But based on preliminary experimental data, the chance that the SA variant completely escapes mRNA vaccine protection is quite low,” said Dr. Siddharth.

While the emerging variants do seem to be better at evading antibodies, vaccines still continue to be effective and are critical to ending the pandemic. Experts concur that vaccination does not increase an individual’s risk of getting COVID-19. Although no vaccine guarantees 100% protection against the Coronavirus infection, mass vaccination is our best bet of ending the global pandemic.