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Israel Sees Drop in Pfizer Vaccine Protection Against Infections

Israel reported on Monday a decrease in the effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in preventing infections and symptomatic illness but said it remained highly effective in preventing serious illness.

The decline coincided with the spread of the Delta variant and the end of social distancing restrictions in Israel.

Vaccine effectiveness in preventing both infection and symptomatic disease fell to 64% since June 6, the Health Ministry said. At the same time the vaccine was 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations and serious illness from the coronavirus.

The ministry in its statement did not say what the previous level was or provide any further details. However ministry officials published a report in May that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine provided more than 95% protection against infection, hospitalization and severe illness.

A Pfizer spokesperson declined to comment on the data from Israel, but cited other research showing that antibodies elicited by the vaccine were still able to neutralize all tested variants, including Delta, albeit at reduced strength.

About 60% of Israel’s 9.3 million population have received at least one shot of Pfizer’s vaccine in a campaign that saw daily cases drop from more than 10,000 in January to single digits last month.

This spurred Israel to drop nearly all social distancing as well as the requirement to wear masks, though the latter was partially reimposed in recent days. At the same time Delta, which has become a globally dominant variant of the coronavirus, began to spread.

Since then daily cases have gradually risen, reaching 343 on Sunday. The number of seriously ill rose to 35 from 21.

Data scientist Eran Segal of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science said the country was unlikely to experience the high levels of hospitalizations seen earlier in the year since there were much fewer critically ill.

He said it was fine to “continue with life back to normal and without restrictions” while stepping up measures like vaccination outreach and ensuring testing for Israelis returning home from abroad.

Source : Reuters

Israel Says the Delta Variant Is Infecting Vaccinated People, Representing As Many As 50% of New Cases

Marianne Guenot wrote . . . . . . . . .

As Israel faces a surge in cases driven by the Delta variant, its health officials suggested that as many as half of new cases were among people who’d been vaccinated.

Fully vaccinated people who’ve come into contact with the Delta variant will have to quarantine, Chezy Levy, the director-general of Israel’s health ministry, said on Wednesday, Haaretz reported.

“Even though the numbers are low, the fact that this is reaching vaccinated people means … that we are still checking how many vaccinated people have also been infected,” Levy said, according to Haaretz.

Levy told the state broadcaster Kan Bet that about 40% to 50% of new cases appeared to be people who had been vaccinated, Haaretz reported. He did not appear to specify a time frame for the new cases.

The figure is likely an estimate, as the ministry is still analyzing the cases. On Monday, Levy said that a third of the new daily cases were people who had been vaccinated.

It also wasn’t clear whether those people had been fully or partially vaccinated.

Though they are preliminary, the figures underline the worry that the Delta variant could mean the virus continues to spread even in places like Israel where large portions of the population have been vaccinated.

New daily cases reported in Israel have jumped to over 100 (205 on June 24), the highest level there since May. About 70% of the cases have been caused by the Delta variant, Levy said on Monday.

Israel had been ending its virus restrictions — it ended indoor masking last week as daily cases hovered in the single digits.

As of Thursday, about 57% of Israel’s population had been fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Though the infections among vaccinated people have alarmed Israelis, the infections do not appear to be as severe as they are in unvaccinated people.

As of Monday, no severe cases of COVID-19 had been reported from the latest surge, Ran Balicer, an executive at the Israeli healthcare organization Clalit, said in a tweet.

Of all the coronavirus variants, the Delta variant could pose the greatest risk to vaccinated people. Research suggests it’s better able to break through in people who’ve had only one dose of two-dose vaccines, such as those from Pfizer and AstraZeneca.

On Monday, Mike Ryan, the executive director of the World Health Organization’s health-emergencies program, said the Delta variant could “be more lethal because it’s more efficient in the way it transmits between humans.”

Two doses of the vaccines appear to be protective against Delta.

An analysis by UK health officials found that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine were 88% effective against Delta while a single shot was 33% effective. That’s compared with 95% efficacy against the original strain, or 52% after one shot.

But no vaccine is 100% effective, and so-called breakthrough cases are still possible.

With other variants, breakthrough infections were mostly mild.

In the UK, where the Delta variant makes up more than 90% of cases, 26 of 73 total deaths associated with the Delta variant were among people who had been fully vaccinated, The Telegraph reported this week.

Source : Business Insider

Read also at Haaretz

Israel to Reinstate Indoor Mask Mandate Next Week as COVID Delta Variant Spreads . . . . .

Israel Sees Probable Link between Pfizer Vaccine and Myocarditis Cases

Jeffrey Heller wrote . . . . . . . . .

Israel’s Health Ministry said on Tuesday it had found the small number of heart inflammation cases observed mainly in young men who received Pfizer’s (PFE.N) COVID-19 vaccine in Israel were likely linked to their vaccination.

Pfizer said in a statement that it was aware of the Israeli observations of myocarditis and said no causal link to its vaccine had been established.

It said adverse events are thoroughly reviewed and Pfizer meets regularly with the Vaccine Safety Department of the Israeli Ministry of Health to review data.

In Israel, 275 cases of myocarditis were reported between December 2020 and May 2021 among more than 5 million vaccinated people, the ministry said in disclosing the findings of a study it commissioned to examine the matter.

Most patients who experienced heart inflammation spent no more than four days in the hospital and 95% of the cases were classified as mild, according to the study, which the ministry said was conducted by three teams of experts.

The study found “there is a probable link between receiving the second dose (of Pfizer) vaccine and the appearance of myocarditis among men aged 16 to 30,” it said in a statement. According to the findings, such a link was observed more among men aged 16 to 19 than in other age groups.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory group last month recommended further study of the possibility of a link between myocarditis and mRNA vaccines, which include those from Pfizer and Moderna Inc.

In a May 24 meeting, the CDC advisory group said that the data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) – which relies on individuals to report results – showed a higher than expected number of observed myocarditis or pericarditis cases in 16– to 24-year-olds.

However, the group also said data from another database -Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) – did not show that rates of myocarditis or pericarditis after COVID-19 vaccination differed from expectations. The VSD has data from nine healthcare organizations and can be used to compare vaccinated populations to unvaccinated ones.

Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that parents should still vaccinate their kids because of the known risks of COVID-19, including multi-system inflammatory syndrome.

“This issue of a transient myocarditis associated with a vaccine is at the moment a theoretical and unproven risk,” Offit said. “So I think that in the world of trying to weigh relative risks, the disease is a greater risk.”

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said last week that heart inflammation after receiving the Pfizer vaccine had been no cause for concern as such incidents were similar rate to those in the general population. It added at the time that young men were particularly prone to the condition.

Israel had held off making its 12- to 15-year-old population eligible for the vaccines, pending the Health Ministry report. In parallel to publishing those findings, a ministry committee approved vaccinating the adolescents, a senior official said.

“The committee gave the green light for vaccinating 12- to 15-year-olds, and this will be possible as of next week,” Nachman Ash, Israel’s pandemic-response coordinator, told Radio 103 FM. “The efficacy of the vaccine outweighs the risk.”

Israel has been a world leader in its vaccination rollout.

With COVID-19 infections down to just a handful a day and total active cases at just 340 across the country, the economy has fully opened, though restrictions remain on incoming tourism.

About 55% of Israel’s population has already been vaccinated. As of Tuesday, restrictions on social distancing and the need for special green vaccination passes to enter certain restaurants and venues were scrapped.

Source: Reuters

As Transmission Rate in Israel Rises Above 1, Virus Cczar Says 4th Lockdown a Possibility

Vaccination campaign began on December 20, 2020

Israel could yet be forced to enter a fourth lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus ahead of the upcoming general election, set for March 23, a senior health official suggested on Friday.

He spoke as the country’s virus transmission rate inched passed 1, indicating the pandemic is once again expanding its spread, according to Health Ministry data.

“We are concerned about the increase in infection in the coming days,” coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told 103FM Radio, adding that “if we don’t act responsibly, and if [citizens] don’t follow the guidelines, the possibility of a fourth lockdown before the election exists.”

Asked about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement to Fox News on Thursday that the pandemic was in Israel’s rearview mirror, Ash said: “I don’t know what the prime minister meant.”

Ministry figures showed the virus’s basic reproduction number, or R-number, was at 1.01 Friday morning. The R-number is the number of new cases stemming from each coronavirus infection, or the number of people who caught the virus from each infected person. Any number lower than 1 means the pandemic is slowing down, while a number above 1 means it is expanding. The figures are based on new case numbers from 10 days earlier due to the virus’s incubation period.

The R-number had been below 1 since late January.

However, coronavirus testing also showed its lowest positivity rate in months, with some 3,600 tests coming back positive Thursday out of 92,000 tests — or some 4 percent.

Serious cases also remained at their lowest number since December, with 690 patients.

The latest data came as Israel prepares to take the next step in removing coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, with the reopening of restaurants, cafes, event venues, attractions and hotels — with some of the activities available only to those with Green Passes signaling they are immunized against the virus.

Netanyahu claimed Thursday that Israel was largely done with the coronavirus, saying that it was the first country in the world to put the pandemic behind it, thanks to its quick and efficient vaccination campaign.

Israel is “the first country in the world to emerge from corona. With this green passport, you can go to restaurants, you can go to theaters, you can go to sports events. This is it. We’re coming out,” Netanyahu said during an interview with Fox News, describing the Green Pass system, which allows the fully vaccinated or recovered to attend various public sites and events.

Netanyahu said, “Look, I don’t think we’re coming out completely. We’re going to have to wear a mask for some time. But we’re behind it.”

However, unnamed health officials told the Maariv newspaper that there were concerns the reopening plan was being influenced by Netanyahu’s political considerations ahead of the March 23 elections.

“In recent days there has been a general disappointment in the [Health] Ministry about the prime minister’s conduct. He has been very much with us all the way but we suddenly feel that the election is affecting his considerations,” the source said.

Nadav Davidovitch, Director of the School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and an advisor to the government on the pandemic, appeared to echo the same concerns as the virus czar.

“It will be a massive failure if we reach a fourth lockdown,” Davidovitch told Army Radio on Friday, adding that “we saw how in the third lockdown the effectiveness dropped significantly, so I don’t believe a fourth lockdown will even be effective.

“We are in a good position now, but we must not reach a fourth lockdown — we have all the tools to prevent that, such as vaccines, fast tests and proper supervision on those entering Ben Gurion Airport,” Davidovitch said.

Israel’s land and air gateways have been largely closed since January 25, with Ben Gurion Airport shuttered for all but a few special flights by Israeli airlines to bring back citizens stranded abroad.

Health officials are concerned that more contagious strains of the coronavirus could arrive in the country, as was the case with the so-called British mutation which now accounts for almost all new coronavirus infections in the country. Some other strains are feared to be more resistant to vaccines.

According to ministry figures, there were 3,628 new cases diagnosed on Thursday, bringing the tally since the start of the pandemic to 795,454, including 41,047 active cases.

Of them, 690 were in serious condition, including 268 classified as critical, and 225 on ventilators.

The death toll rose to 5,832.

Additionally, 4,901,143 Israelis have received the first vaccine dose, of whom 3,654,797 have also received the second. Several million Israelis are ineligible for the vaccine, most of them under the age of 16.

According to Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute, some 87% of all Israelis aged 16 and up who aren’t ultra-Orthodox or Arab have either recovered from COVID-19 or received at least one vaccine dose.

The equivalent figure for the ultra-Orthodox community was 72%, while the lowest immunization rate, 64%, has been observed among Arab Israelis.

Source : The Times of Israel