Highly vaccinated Israel is seeing a dramatic increase in new cases of COVID. here’s why
Israel was the first country on Earth to fully immunize a majority of its citizens against COVID-19. Now he has one of the highest daily infection rates in the world – an average of nearly 7,500 confirmed cases per day, double what it was two weeks ago. Today, nearly one in 150 people in Israel is infected with the virus.
What happened and what can we learn about the impact of the vaccine on a highly vaccinated country? Here are six lessons learned – and a looming question for the future of the pandemic.
1. Immunity from the vaccine wanes over time.
Israel had fully immunized just over half of its population as of March 25. Infections have subsided, sites have reopened to vaccines, and the prime minister has told Israelis to get out and have fun. In June, all restrictions, including indoor masking, were lifted.
But Israel has paid a price for the early deployment. Health officials, then Pfizer, said their data showed decreased protection from the vaccine about six months after receiving the second injection.
2. The delta variant broke the waning protection of the vaccine.
It was a perfect storm: The waning protection of the vaccine came around the same time the more infectious delta variant arrived in Israel this summer. Delta today accounts for almost all infections in Israel.
“The most influential event was the number of people who went abroad during the summer – the holidays – and brought the delta variant very, very quickly to Israel,” said Siegal Sadetzki, former director of public health at the Israeli Ministry of Health.
3. If you are infected, getting the vaccine helps.
The good news is that among serious infections in Israel on Thursday this week, according to data from the Ministry of Health, the rate of severe cases among unvaccinated people over the age of 60 (178.7 per 100,000) was nine. times higher than the rate among fully vaccinated people of the same age group, and the rate of severe cases among unvaccinated people under age 60 (3.2 per 100,000) was just over double the rate among vaccinated people in this age group.
The bad news, doctors say, is that half of the critically ill Israeli patients who are currently in hospital were fully immunized at least five months ago. Most of them are over 60 years old and present with co-morbidities. Critically ill patients who are not vaccinated are mostly young and healthy people whose condition has deteriorated rapidly.
The daily average number of infections in Israel has nearly doubled in the past two weeks and has increased tenfold since mid-July, approaching figures of Israel’s peak in winter. Deaths have risen from five in June to at least 248 so far this month. Health officials say currently 600 critically ill patients are hospitalized and warn they cannot treat more than 1,000 serious infections at the same time.
4. The high vaccination rate in Israel is not high enough.
The country is ahead of all other countries on vaccines, and 78% of eligible Israelis over 12 are vaccinated.
But Israel has a young population, many of whom are not of the eligible age for vaccination, and an estimated 1.1 million eligible Israelis, largely between the ages of 12 and 20, have refused to take even only one dose of the vaccine.
This means that only 58% of the total population of Israel is fully vaccinated. Experts say it’s not high enough.
“We have a very large fraction of our population paying the price for a small fraction of the population who did not go for the vaccine,” said Éran Segal from the Weizmann Institute of Science, which advises the Israeli government on COVID-19.
Unvaccinated people have helped fuel the rapid spread of the virus as the country has remained open for business in recent months with few serious restrictions.
“It will lead to massive infection, which is exactly what we are seeing right now,” Segal said.
5. Vaccines are essential, but they are not enough.
Israel is trying to slow the tide without resorting to a new lockdown, which Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said would have an economic impact and “destroy the future of the country.” The country is capping gatherings, increasing hospital staff and advocating for unvaccinated people to be vaccinated.
At the gates of Israel, the vaccination rate is much lower in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Only about 8% of Palestinians have been fully immunized. Palestinians are wary of certain brands of vaccines in large quantities, such as AstraZeneca, while Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is in smaller quantities for Palestinians. But the Palestinian population is not a source of transmission in Israel. Only vaccinated Palestinians receive permits to enter Israel and Israeli settlements.
As for the low vaccination rate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, “we have no vaccine shortage. It is reluctance,” said Randa Abu Rabe, a local official with the World Health Organization. health workers in the Palestinian territories.
6. Recall shots offer more protection, if you’re one of the lucky few in the world to get them.
Israel is the first country to offer a third injection of Pfizer vaccine in a nationwide recall campaign. Preliminary research in Israel suggests that booster shots greatly increase protection against the coronavirus a week after a person receives the third dose.
HMO Maccabi Healthcare Services, an Israeli national, who conducted the preliminary study of 149,144 Israelis who received three Pfizer injections, said that for Israelis over the age of 60, a Pfizer booster injection reduced the risk of infection 86% and the risk of serious infection 92%. .
The first data reflects studies by vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna and provides insight into the effects of boosters in a real-world setting.
After reviewing data on breakthrough infections in Israel, the United States announced a recall campaign starting in late September for anyone eight months after their second injection. The UK has promised recalls soon, and Turkey is offering Pfizer vaccines for people immunized with the Sinovac vaccine to help citizens who are planning to travel, as some countries will not recognize the Chinese vaccine.
Israel has lowered the minimum age for recall to 40. “The triple dose is the solution to curb the current infection epidemic,” Maccabi’s Anat Ekka Zohar said in a statement.
Recalls are not yet offered in the Palestinian territories, and the World Health Organization has called on countries to stop giving COVID-19 reminders in order to help poorer countries get vaccinated.
“Israel has great respect for the World Health Organization but acts according to local considerations and the interests of Israeli citizens. We help the world a lot, ”an Israeli health official told NPR, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak in public. On the question. “If the UN hasn’t secured enough vaccines for Chad, Mali, Myanmar and Guatemala, that doesn’t mean Israel shouldn’t seek to prevent a pandemic from happening here.”
Experts warn that if countries do not vaccinate their populations, more variants will develop, threatening even vaccinated countries.
Looming question: will we need COVID-19 vaccines every few months? We do not know.
The Cinema City cinema complex in Jerusalem is teeming with young children and parents, but a short walk from the box office is a makeshift vaccination station where dozens of residents, mostly older, wait their turn to receive medication. booster injections.
More than a million Israelis have received a Pfizer recall in recent weeks. They are being watched around the world, as Israel is the first country to administer a third dose of Pfizer on a large scale, just as it was ahead of the curve in the first round of shooting.
“They are testing us,” said Etti Ben Yaakov, sitting in a vaccination booth with her brother as he received a booster. “But in the first [round], it was the same. So I don’t think that’s anything wrong. I find it good.”
She predicts that the coronavirus, like the flu, will cause injections every year. “We will have to live with the crown,” she said.
Ido Hadari of HMO Maccabi, who led the preliminary booster study, questioned whether regular injections would become the norm.
“I don’t know of any disease that we are vaccinated for every six months, and to be honest I don’t think the public will come to get vaccinated every six months,” Hadari said. “But you can’t predict anything with this disease.”
An earlier version of this story misspelled the Weizmann Institute of Science as the Weitzmann Institute of Science.