As Delta variant circulates in CT, study finds Pfizer vaccine works

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego. Children as young as 12 should receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, a panel of advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. Children as young as 12 should receive the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, a panel of advisers to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

K.C. Alfred / Tribune News Service

Amid growing concerns nationwide and in Connecticut over the spread of the highly transmissible Delta COVID-19 variant, a study out of the U.K. released this week shows the Pfizer vaccine appears to work.

The study from the University of Oxford, published in the medical journal Cell, said neutralization of the virus by Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZenca vaccines was reduced compared with the original strains of the virus, but “there is no evidence of widespread antibody escape.”

While AstraZenca’s vaccine is not approved for use in the U.S., Pfizer-BioNTech’s inoculation was the first to receive approval and has been widely used in Connecticut since the state launched it’s vaccination program last December.

“Although this was a complex study, the take-home message is positive for people who choose to get immunized,” said Dr. Daniel Gottschall, vice president of medical affairs for the Fairfield region of Hartford HealthCare and St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.

On Wednesday, Connecticut reported a positivity rate of 0.77 percent among new COVID-19 tests. Hospitalizations dropped by six patients to a total of 29 statewide, the lowest since early in the pandemic. No new deaths were reported.

While infection rates have been among the lowest since the pandemic hit Connecticut, the Delta variant has drawn attention in recent weeks since it is believed to spread more easily between people.

But public health officials have pointed to vaccines as a way to reduce the effects of the virus and its many strains, though information was initially limited about the effectiveness of the vaccines against the Delta variant, which was first found in India.

The most recent surveillance in Connecticut, conducted through genetic sequencing, has found a growing number of cases involving the Delta variant. A report released this month showed it was identified in 6.5 percent of all samples reviewed.

Despite the increasing spread of the Delta variant, which experts believe may become the dominant strain in Connecticut, vaccination rates have slowed in recent weeks, down from a high in mid-April of more than 300,000 doses a week to about 90,000 doses a week in June.

As of this week, 59.1 percent of all Connecticut residents ages 12 and over are fully vaccinated.

The study also examined the ability for natural antibodies from people infected with other variants to prevent new Delta infections and found that some of these antibodies were not as effective.

Experts said this latest study shows further evidence that having a previous COVID-19 infection is not a substitute for getting the vaccine.

“The natural immunity seemed less protective than (vaccination),” he said. “It just seems that vaccination is the best defense right now.”

It also could send a strong message to those who have been infected and who hope their antibodies will protect them without a vaccination, Gottschall said.

Dr. Richard Martinello, medical director of Infection Prevention for Yale New Haven Hospital, agreed. He said the study seems to support the guidance about the importance of COVID-19 vaccination.

“While we know people have some degree of immunity with previous infection, it appears vaccination may be more effective,” he said.