Israel Doubles Covid Booster Injections As Success Cases Rise

Israel Doubles Covid Booster Injections As Success Cases Rise

An Israeli receives his third injection of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Rishon Lezion, Israel, on August 24, 2021, as the country launches booster shots for children over 30.

Nir Elias | Reuters

Israeli lawmakers want to avoid another lockdown after overseeing the world’s fastest vaccination campaign. However, new daily coronavirus infections have reached record levels.

As many countries grapple with the rapid spread of the highly transmissible delta variant, transmission of COVID-19 in Israel has declined sharply, with the country having vaccinated more than half of its population in almost two months.

The country had one of the fastest vaccination roll-out programs in the world, and in early June many of its coronavirus restrictions were lifted as new cases declined dramatically. But a few days later, the masks were put back on as the number of new infections began to rise.

As of Wednesday, 63% of Israel’s population had been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Our World in Data.

COVID-19 cases in Israel have been increasing rapidly since July despite a high vaccination rate, and 8,615 new infections were confirmed on Thursday. Daily new cases in the country hit a record high of 12,113 on August 24, surpassing January’s peak of 11,934.

A few months ago, new cases had dropped to double digits and there were days in May and June when no new infections had been recorded.

As of Monday, 992 new cases of Kovid-19 per million people were reported in Israel. For comparison, the United States has recorded 446 new cases per million people, as our world shows in the data.

Despite the high level of so-called “breakthrough cases”, morbidity in the country has not progressed beyond the peak seen in January, which is largely attributed to the rollout of vaccination. As of Sunday, 25 deaths were recorded in Israel – a far cry from this year’s record of 101 on January 20. In the past month, Israel recorded 476 deaths from COVID-19, up from 1,471 in January. But hospitalizations and deaths are on the rise.

Certainly, anyone over the age of 12 is eligible for COVID-19 vaccination in Israel.

Expectations of vaccination boosters

Preliminary data released by the Israeli government showed in July that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was only 16% effective against symptomatic infections for people who received two doses in January. For those who were fully vaccinated in April, the vaccine was 79% effective against symptomatic infection, suggesting that the immunity gained from vaccination wanes over time.

However, the analysis concluded that having the vaccine protects against serious illness and hospitalizations from COVID-19.

At the end of July, Israel began offering a third of the vaccine dose to all people over 60, a move that quickly spread. Throughout August, the booster program was gradually rolled out to a larger population, and from Tuesday, a third injection is available for all people over 30.

Israelis receiving a booster must wait five months after their second dose before being eligible for their third dose.

Prof Eyal Leshem, an infectious disease specialist at Sheba Medical Center who treats frontline patients in Israel, told CNBC by phone that although cases were on the rise, the rate of serious illness was “significantly low.”

“We attribute this to the fact that most of our adult population has been vaccinated with two doses, and over a million people have received a third booster dose,” he said.

“The rate of severe illness in people vaccinated is about one-tenth of that seen in unvaccinated people, which means the vaccine is still over 90% effective in preventing serious illness,” Leshem said. “People who receive booster doses also have a much lower risk of getting infected, our short-term data show.”

Leshem said that in Israel, one million of the country’s 9 million people have already been confirmed to be naturally infected.

“We believe that if we have 1 million confirmed cases, we probably still have hundreds of thousands, if not more, that have been ‘quietly infected’,” he said, noting that these are immunity conferred by the vaccine. can help increase.

Ultimately, Leshem said, the goal was not to eliminate COVID-19, but to achieve a state of “equilibrium”.

“Covid is spreading globally, and it is also spreading to wildlife, so it will be very difficult to eradicate it,” he said. “Therefore, most of the population will be infected at some point. Hopefully this will happen after being protected from the vaccines and therefore the infection will be mild. “

“Many infectious diseases first appeared as epidemics and then became more balanced. Of course, the most important question is, how long are we going to take to live normally with COVID? Will it take several years or more? Point is? Vaccines speed up this process because they allow more people to be infected naturally without developing serious illness, ”Leshem said.

Gideon Schreiber, a professor at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, told CNBC on a call that while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has become less effective in preventing transmission of Covid-19 over time, the program Israel’s vaccination booster remained “a huge gap”. Was. “

“I think in a few weeks we will see a huge drop in disease due to the third dose of vaccination,” he said. “If you look at the 1960s, when the people were most seriously ill, they were about four or five times less likely to get serious illness with Delta. [after their second dose]. But now they are ten times less likely to develop serious illness after the third stroke. “

This, he said, was likely due to new antibodies produced in people receiving the third dose of the vaccine. It is believed that the decline in antibodies over time may be the cause of the weakened immunity seen in people who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but no vaccine has ever been effective in 100% to prevent disease. it happens.

“We now have a very fast pace of third vaccination, so I think the results will be very clearly visible, and in the near future we will see severe illness and an overall decline in illness. [in general]”said Schreiber.

vaccination surge

Israeli lawmakers are keen to avoid reintroducing drastic measures and urge those eligible for any dose of the vaccine to get vaccinated. The resumption of some COVID mitigation policies sparked protests in Tel Aviv earlier this month.

“I don’t want to impose a lockdown and I will avoid the lockdown at all costs,” Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told Israel’s Channel 12 television at the time. “Everything is open – but we need masks and we need vaccines. “

Schreiber also said he believed the vaccination survived the lockdown measures, even despite the high number of successful cases in Israel and elsewhere.

“The cases are not so much the problem, the severity is really the problem,” he said.

“If you can reduce the number of seriously ill people enough that you don’t overload the system, and if you can give them reasonably good treatment – and the treatment is better now – then locking out really isn’t a good solution.” . Maybe it was long before there was a vaccine, but now that severe cases are in controllable numbers, I’m not a big supporter of this measure. “

Schreiber told CNBC that the focus should be on vaccination at this point in the pandemic.

“What we need is vaccination, and now that vaccination is very successful in Israel, it really seems to be working,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll see a real reduction in cases in a few weeks, and in severe cases we [already] Look at the big downside. That’s what the numbers are showing very, very clearly right now. “

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