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Be cautious over how FDA and others define vaccine ‘efficacy’ | READER COMMENTARY

In this Aug. 30, 2020, file photo, people hold signs while protesting outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald via AP, File)
In this Aug. 30, 2020, file photo, people hold signs while protesting outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Doctors and nurses treating those sick and dying from the coronavirus said politics around social distancing and the lethality of the virus are complicating treatment efforts. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald via AP, File) (Nancy Lane/AP)

It was good news to read of the online symposium organized by Johns Hopkins University (“As coronavirus vaccine politics heat up, FDA aims to shore up trust at Johns Hopkins symposium," Oct. 6). The article was clear regarding vaccine safety (“vaccine makers should monitor trial participants for at least two months to rule out safety problems”). The article stated that candidate vaccines “are intended to provide the body with antibodies to defend against exposure to COVID-19” and it uses the word “efficacy” repeatedly but does not state that efficacy means effective protection from symptomatic illness.

“Providing the body with antibodies to defend” means efficacy only when vaccine recipients have been shown in vaccine trials to be protected against symptoms. Many antibodies produced by vaccines are measurable but have nothing to do with protection or defense. I ask that science reporters tell readers what core words such as “efficacy” signify so that readers can get the most out of their articles.

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Dr. Randy Barker, Baltimore

The writer is professor of medicine, emeritus at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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