Israeli health officials have stated that the Pfizer/BioNTech Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is only 39 percent effective against the delta variant of the virus.
The Israeli Ministry of Health (MOH) revealed the finding in a July 22 report that looked at COVID-19 cases between June 20 and July 17. Nevertheless, the ministry insisted that the two-dose mRNA vaccine remains highly effective in preventing serious illness and hospitalization.
The MOH looked at COVID-19 cases during the period of the delta variant’s spread throughout Israel. The ministry’s report also showed the decreasing effectiveness of the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against transmission. Israel used the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine on the majority of its population, alongside some doses from Moderna.
Israelis inoculated back in January 2021 showed a 16 percent effectiveness against COVID-19 transmission, while those inoculated in February 2021 reflected a higher 44 percent potency against transmission. This potency rose to 67 percent among Israelis vaccinated in March 2021. Meanwhile, those vaccinated in April 2021 showed a 75 percent effectiveness against COVID-19 transmission.
Despite these findings, the MOH said the vaccine’s effectiveness at preventing severe COVID-19 for Israelis vaccinated in January remained at 86 percent. This was only slightly lower than those vaccinated in the succeeding months. Furthermore, the findings also showed that it was still 91 percent effective in preventing serious illness in fully vaccinated individuals.
However, doctors who spoke to the Times of Israel said the July 22 statistics not only reflect the passage of time following vaccination. They added that it also reflected a bias as most Israelis who got inoculated early –such as the elderly – often had health conditions and are more prone to infection.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev epidemiologist Nadav Davidovitch reacted to the MOH’s figures. He told the Times: “What we see is that the vaccine is less effective in preventing transmission. [But] it’s easy to overlook that it’s still very effective in preventing hospitalization and severe cases.”
Masks are returning to Israel thanks to plunging vaccine effectiveness
The MOH’s concerning findings followed its implementation of new restrictions to curb the spread of the more infectious delta variant. A July 20 press release by the ministry said that only Israelis vaccinated against COVID-19, those who recovered from a bout of the illness or those with a negative COVID-19 test result can attend large events. It added that businesses are also mandated to verify Israelis’ coronavirus passports to see if patrons fall under these categories.
The diminished effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine meant that mask mandates would return. Israel dropped indoor and outdoor mask requirements during the first half of 2021 as mass inoculation in the country progressed.
Back in April, former Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced the end of outdoor mask mandates. His order, which took effect on April 18, was the result of consultation with ministry professionals. “The masks are intended to protect us from the coronavirus. After professionals decided this was no longer required in open spaces, I decided to enable taking them off,” Edelstein said.
Indoor mask mandates, on the other hand, were only lifted on June 15 but were quickly reinstated after 10 days due to concerns about the delta variant. MOH Director-General Dr. Nachman Ash, who served as the country’s coronavirus commissioner at the time, said that people would once again need to wear masks indoors to curb rising COVID-19 cases.
The July 20 MOH press release reiterated these returning mask mandates. “Any and all public and business establishments … are required to deny entry and services to anyone who does not wear a mask and to place signs in prominent spots to remind patrons of the masking requirement, it said. The press release added that businesses with a public announcement system “are required to notify patrons of the masking requirement.”
The MOH warned that businesses who fail to place signs reminding patrons of the mask mandate could be fined up to 1,000 Israeli shekels (US$305). Businesses who admitted or provided services to individuals not wearing face coverings could also face the same fines, the ministry added.
Pandemic.news has more stories about Israel’s vaccination program to curb the spread of COVID-19.