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The Statistical Secrets of Covid-19 Vaccines

The Statistical Secrets of Covid-19 Vaccines

They’re really very good, and they’re the only way out of the pandemic. But a tour through the numbers could bring the vaccine-hesitant into the tent.

THE CREATION AND distribution of vaccines against Covid-19 has been as close as science gets to a miracle—the culmination of centuries of infectious disease research, a mastery of viral genomics, the creation of a whole new kind of vaccinology, and speed in the face of crisis. So it’s weird that even as the global pandemic worsens (infection and death rates have gone vertical in India and South America), the appetite for vaccination in the United States seems to have peaked. The seven-day average number of doses hit 3.38 million on April 13 and has been on the downslope ever since

Some of that trend might be simple market saturation—lots of the people who were supposed to go first, like the elderly, have already gotten their shots. People with easier access to vaccination centers got them too, as did the ones who were able to manage the confusing internet-based ways of getting an appointment. Who’s left? People who are harder to reach and people who might be “vaccine hesitant.” They resist getting vaccinated because—well, actually, that’s confusing. Some might think the pandemic isn't their problem to solve. Others might have a misguided fear of vaccines generally. But one hypothesis is that the non-takers think their risk for severe illness is so low that it’s not worth risking minor (or very rare severe) side effects. Part of that reasoning might be because of the way the trials were designed—because of an original sin built into that vaccine miracle. And part of that might be because they misunderstand the statistics involved. So. Nerd out with me, won’t you?

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