SPIEGEL: Mr. Şahin, most experts did not have high expectations that a corona vaccine would also suppress the transmission of the virus. The Biontech vaccine is now supposed to prevent around 90 percent infections. Are you surprised yourself?
Hawk: Yes, I did not expect such good values. With respiratory infections like Covid-19, the path the virus has to take to get to its destination is very short. Accordingly, it seemed difficult to stop the infection completely. But that’s really great data published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. More dates will come. We are working on our own publication.
SPIEGEL: These first official results come from a mass study by an Israeli health insurance company that was carried out in conjunction with Harvard Medical School. How can I see if the vaccine is preventing infection?
Hawk: By doing an observational study with a control group that compares data from people who have been vaccinated to a group who have not yet received a vaccination – a very different type of study from what you do to get a vaccine approved. For a pivotal study, the test subjects are randomly divided into two groups, one given the real vaccine and the other a placebo, and then you see whether the group of those who are actually vaccinated is less infected with the virus than in the group the placebo. The current study from Israel was more like a government monitoring program by the Israeli Ministry of Health.