The flaws of the vaccine efficacy table shared by the government are now being exposed by experts around Hungary. Government officials have decided, despite the controversy, that they will stand by the alleged validity of their dataset.
The table’s initial statement revolved around proving the government’s point that the Chinese and Russian vaccines are better than Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, but its information has not been presented in a way that allows for such a comparison to be made. Now Hungarian scientists and economists have shared their takes on why such a table should not be taken seriously.
Efficacy Table Does Not Provide Context on Vaccines
It did not take long for Katalin Karikó, a developer of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, to respond to the post made by the government and highlight its lack of context.
Biostatistician Tamás Ferenci told Telex that the table is a disgrace, and that he hopes only politicians took part in its creation, as it would otherwise paint a terribly negative picture of Hungarian healthcare.
Ferenci is most frustrated by the fact that the methodology of the information shared by the table is not clear. It cannot be known which vaccinated age group was analyzed, and how many of the people who received specific vaccines had an underlying illness.
FactPfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has been used since the beginning of Hungary’s vaccination program, on Hungary’s oldest age group with higher instances of chronic illness. Sputnik V and Sinopharm vaccinations began in February on younger demographics with no serious illnesses.
There are relevant, trustworthy datasets, such as the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System in the United States. This report provides details such as when individuals were suffering from certain symptoms after vaccination, whether those symptoms were related to Covid, whether the individuals were infected following their first or second inoculation, and how many of them passed away.
Medical Chamber Highlights Methodology Issues
The Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) responded to the Hungarian government in an open letter, in which it stated that “in its current form, this data is not suitable for determining the efficacy differences of various vaccines.”
The Chamber highlighted the methodology issue of the table as well, saying that it is a mistake to treat first and second vaccination data together and to not consider that the health of people vaccinated with various vaccines differs. They also emphasized that the table ignores the time differences of various vaccines’ use and the variance in age of those who were inoculated with different vaccines.
MOK requested the operative board to allow professionals to research available datasets on vaccination, since it would be ideal to fully understand the immune response developed by various vaccines and to figure out the best way to use various types of vaccines.
Hungarian Economist Clarifies Vaccine Statistics
Popular Hungarian economist Viktor Zsiday said that the purpose of the table is clearly to argue that Eastern vaccines are better than Western ones, but that it is completely unfit to prove such a point.
Let us imagine that 100,000 people received both shots of one vaccine over the course of a year, and until today 10 have gotten sick. Meanwhile, people have been receiving both doses of another vaccine for only a week, and 5 of them got sick. Can we then conclude that the vaccine which was tied to 5 infections is more effective? Obviously, not, since in the first instance there was a year for potential infections to show up, in the second there was only a week.”
Zsiday added that even more differences are generated when considering that the two vaccines were used on different age groups with different underlying illnesses, and the pandemic situation may have been very different during certain periods when one of the vaccines was in use.
The economist said that more research is required which involves the same period for different vaccines, as well as an analysis of those vaccines on people with comparable conditions. He emphasized that this is not an opposition-based battle of numbers.
It is in the interest of every Hungarian to know how well these [vaccines] work, since this is what will determine whether we can avoid a new wave in the fall-winter period.”
Mathematician László Mérő made a satirical imitation of the table, changing the different vaccine types to magazines for various age groups, and showing that “whoever wishes to live,” should read one over the other. Making fun of the government’s efficacy table, he suggests that those who want to live for many more years should read youth and child magazines, while the life prospects of those reading Pensioners’ Magazine are not too bright.
Government Officials Stand By Their Statement
Despite the negative reaction it has generated among professionals in the field of both statistics and medicine, government officials have voiced their support for the vaccine table published on the government’s Facebook page.
Minister of Justice Judit Varga said that every part of the dataset is understandable, while Minister of Innovation and Technology László Palkovics said that professionals should not criticize such statistics.
Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said that the table does prove that Sinopharm and Sputnik V are better than Pfizer’s vaccine, and that “naturally any allegation can be argued, if we look at the numbers then this [argument] is factually true.”
Featured photo illustration by Attila Balázs/MTI