Less than a month after the start of a COVID-19 vaccine booster campaign, Israel sees signs of an impact on the country’s high rates of infection and serious illness fueled by the rapidly spreading Delta variant, according to officials and scientists, writing Maya lubell.
Delta struck Israel in June, just as the country was starting to reap the benefits of one of the fastest vaccine deployments in the world.
With an open economy and most restrictions removed, Israel has gone from single-digit daily infections and zero deaths to around 7,500 daily cases last week, 600 people hospitalized in serious condition and more than 150 people dying over the course of the year. of this single week.
On July 30, he began administering a third dose of Pfizer (PFE.N)/ BioNtech (22UAy.DE) vaccine for people over 60, the first country to do so. On Thursday, he expanded eligibility to people 40 and older whose second dose was given at least 5 months previously, saying the age could drop further.
In the past 10 days, the pandemic has abated in the first age group, more than a million of whom have received a third dose of the vaccine, according to data from Israel’s Ministry of Health and scientists interviewed by Reuters .
The rate of disease spread among vaccinated people aged 60 and over – known as the reproduction rate – began to decline steadily around August 13 and fell below 1, indicating that every infected person transmits the virus unless someone else is. Reproduction rate less than 1 means an epidemic is decreasing.
Scientists have said that booster shots are impacting infections, but other factors are also likely contributing to the decline.
“The numbers are still very high but what has changed is that the very sharp rise in the rate of infections and severe cases has declined, as has the rate of spread of the pandemic,” said Eran Segal, data scientist at the Weizmann Institute. of science and government advisor.
“This is probably due to the third boosters, absorption from people taking the first dose and the high number of people infected per week, possibly up to 100,000, who now have natural immunity,” Segal said.
After hitting one of the highest per capita infection rates in the world this month, the question now is whether Israel can extricate itself from a fourth outbreak without imposing another lockdown that would hurt its economy.
Evidence has emerged showing that if the vaccine is always very efficient in the prevention of serious diseases, its protection decreases over time. But there is no consensus among scientists and agencies that a third dose is needed, and the World Health Organization has said more of the world should be vaccinated with a first. dose before people receive a third dose.
The United States has announced plans to offer booster doses to all Americans eight months after their second dose of the vaccine, citing data showing decreased protection. Canada, France and Germany have also planned recall campaigns.
About one million of Israel’s 9.3 million people have so far chosen not to vaccinate at all and children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccines. Health officials on Thursday said they identified waning immunity in people under the age of 40, though relatively few fell seriously ill.
According to Doron Gazit, a member of the Hebrew University COVID-19 expert team advising the government, the increase in cases of critically ill vaccinated people in the 60 and over age group has been steadily slowing for stop in the last 10 days.
“We attribute this to booster injections and more careful behavior recently,” Gazit said.
More than half of those over 60 have received a third vaccine, according to the health ministry.
The rate of serious new cases among unvaccinated patients 70 and older is now seven times that of vaccinated patients, and the gap will continue to widen as infections increase, according to Gazit. Among those over 50, this gap is quadruple.
“We are optimistic, but very cautious,” Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told public broadcaster Kan on Sunday. “It gives us more time, slows the spread and we move away from lockdown. “
But even if the boosters slow the pace of the pandemic, it is unlikely to push Delta completely away.
Dvir Aran, biomedical data scientist at Technion – Israel’s Institute of Technology, said that even as cases recede, other measures are needed besides boosters to stop the pandemic. “It will be a long time before enough people receive a third dose and by then thousands more will become seriously ill.”
Since Delta’s skyrocketing, Israel has reimposed the wearing of indoor masks, restrictions on gatherings, and stepped up rapid testing.
Its “living with COVID” policy will be tested in September, when schools reopen after the summer vacation and when the Jewish vacation season begins, with families traditionally coming together to celebrate.