Israel’s fast vaccination shows promising results

Israel’s swift vaccination rollout has made it the largest real-world study of Covid-19 vaccineq and the results so far are promising, Reuters reported. More than half of eligible Israelis, or about 3.5 million people, have now been fully or partially vaccinated. Older and at-risk groups, the first to be inoculated, are seeing a dramatic drop in illnesses.

Among the first fully-vaccinated group there was a 53% reduction in new cases, a 39% decline in hospitalisations and a 31% drop in severe illnesses from mid-January until 6 February, Eran Segal, data scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, said. In the same period, among people under age 60 who became eligible for shots later, new cases dropped 20% but hospitalisations and severe illness rose 15% and 29%, respectively.

The vaccine drive has provided a database offering insights into how effective the vaccines are outside of controlled clinical trials, and at what point countries might attain sought-after but elusive herd immunity. More will be known in two weeks, as teams analyse vaccine effectiveness in younger groups of Israelis, as well as targeted populations such as people with diabetes, cancer and pregnant women, among a patient base at least 10 times larger than those in clinical studies.

Pfizer is monitoring the Israeli rollout on a weekly basis for insights that can be used around the world. As a small country with universal healthcare, advanced data capabilities and the promise of a swift rollout, Israel provided Pfizer with a unique opportunity to study the real-world impact of the vaccine developed with Germany’s BioNTech.

But the company said it remained “difficult to forecast the precise time when herd protection may start to manifest” because of many variables at play, including social distancing measures and the number of new infections generated by each case, known as the reproduction rate. Even Israel, in the vanguard of the global vaccine drive, has lowered expectations of emerging quickly from the pandemic because of soaring cases.

A third national lockdown has struggled to contain transmission, attributed to the fast-spreading UK variant of the virus. On a positive note, the Pfizer/BioNTech shot appears to be effective against it. “We’ve so far identified the same 90% to 95% efficacy against the British strain,” said Hezi Levi, director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry. “It is still early though, because we have only now finished the first week after the second dose,” he said, adding: “It’s too early to say anything about the South African variant.”

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