TAMPA, Fla. — A looming scientific question has now seemingly been answered. New studies out of Israel show the Pfizer vaccine not only prevents severe sickness but also stops the transmission of the virus.
“If a person gets infected despite the fact they’ve been vaccinated ... does that person have the capability of transmitting that infection to another person?" asked Doctor Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease doctor during a White House press briefing by the COVID-19 Response Team on Wednesday.
The new stunning studies still need to be peer-reviewed but they show Pfizer's vaccine protects us even more than we thought.
“The vaccine that I've been saying was great for a while is even better than I thought," said Doctor Michael Teng, a virologist at USF Health.
Teng says the studies are among the first to show the vaccine may stop the spread of the virus.
“We always talk about getting a vaccine to protect yourself and protect the community. Now we know it kind of does both and this is gonna be amazing," he said.
Meaning, even if you still catch the virus after vaccination — what’s known as a breakthrough infection — symptoms won’t just be less severe but you likely won’t spread it to anyone else.
The studies show after getting the doses virus transmission was cut by 94% in symptomatic cases and 90% in asymptomatic cases. In the U.S., the Mayo Clinic had similar findings with both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
Israel is not only in the international spotlight for its promising studies but also for leading the vaccine rollout.
“Israel is a really interesting case study," said Dr. Teng.
Likewise, Dr. Fauci praised the country's handling of the pandemic saying: "We have been hearing and seeing in the press that Israel has a remarkable diminution in cases associated with the efficiency of their vaccine."
Right now, infections and hospitalizations are declining in Israel. 32% of the nation's total population is fully vaccinated. In the critical 60 and older category, 80% of their population has received both doses. The U.S. lags behind with just 5% of its total population fully vaccinated.
Teng says there are factors we can’t change. Israel's population is just nine million compared to our 328 million. Israel also has strong federal control of its health response and instituted a national lockdown on January 8th closing down businesses, partially shutting down schools and limiting travel.
"Each state of ours is like a little country -- like Israel -- you can't just shut everything down [here]," said Teng.
But Teng says we can take notes from Israel and improve our speed of vaccination, we can also keep tracking infections at a national level, and provide clearer messaging on the safety of vaccines and how to get them.
"What are the benefits of the vaccine? How to go and get a vaccine?" asked Teng, "You know, all these things that we've struggled with we've seen in Florida ... people camping out overnight, just to get a vaccine that they don't even know it's gonna be there. Websites crashing. Telling people the vaccine is good, safe. “
Teng says there are lessons to be learned and we need to pay attention.