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November 10, 2020

COVID vaccine announced 90% effective: What does that mean?


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. A transcript of the video is available here

Summary:As drug companies around the world rush to develop candidates for coronavirus vaccines, Pfizer announced encouraging early data from its own trials Monday. What do the preliminary results show, and even if they are borne out, what challenges remain with regard to production and distribution of the vaccine?

  • According to Pfizer, early tests have shown their COVID-19 vaccine to be 90% effective, which would mean that 90% of those given the vaccine develop resistance to the virus for at least some period of time. By comparison, most annual flu vaccines are between 40-60% effective at establishing resistance.
  • The FDA (the Food and Drug Administration, which tests medicines for safety and effectiveness) has not approved the Pfizer vaccine yet, though may do so in the coming weeks or months.
  • Many other drug companies around the world are developing vaccines that work similarly to Pfizer’s vaccine. All would need to be approved by the FDA before being distributed to the American public.


Warm up questions: 

  1. What is a vaccine and how does it work?
  2. Who is working on developing a vaccine?
  3. Why is the vaccine not yet available if it is 90% effective, according to Pfizer?
  4. When do experts expect the vaccine to be ready for the public, if Pfizer’s claims are accurate?
  5. How does vaccine testing work?

Focus questions:

  1. Do you think vaccines are useful even if not effective in 100% of people? Why or why not?
  2. What do you think are the most important measures federal and local governments should take to speed the end of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Media literacy: Do you think media outlets should report the claims of drug effectiveness from companies like Pfizer before they have been independently verified? 

 Additional resources: 

  • The FDA will need to approve any vaccine that comes to market. To learn more about the FDA’s process and current process, visit their newsfeed on the vaccine here.
  • Americans everywhere are experiencing challenges from prolonged effects of pandemic measures, including the isolation of remote working and learning. Check out this lesson to learn about ways isolation can affect mental health, and what can be done about it.


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