Posted on December 16, 2020

COVID-19 Vaccines May Be Less Effective for Asian Americans

Adam Conner-Simons, MIT CSAIL, December 2, 2020

After all the attention paid to Moderna and Pfizer’s new Covid-19 vaccines, some health experts have expressed caution about the companies’ confident assertions that the vaccines are 95 percent effective for all populations.

This week, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) showed that the vaccines’ effectiveness may vary depending on a person’s race, and said that the vaccines should be tested robustly across populations with diverse genetic backgrounds.

Using advanced machine learning AI methods that examined a form of vaccine similar to Moderna and Pfizer’s, the team found that the number of people whose cellular immune system is not predicted to robustly respond to the vaccine ranged from less than half of one percent of white participants to nearly 10 percent of Asian participants. (Participants self-reported their race.)

“There are obviously many other factors to consider, but our preliminary results suggest that, on average, people of Black or Asian ancestry could have a slightly increased risk of vaccine ineffectiveness,” says MIT professor David Gifford, senior author of a new paper outlining the findings. “Our work shows that clinical trials need to carefully consider ancestry in their study designs to ensure that efficacy is measured across an appropriate population.”