Israel’s booster injection program has been shown to be effective in reducing severe cases of Covid even as new infections soar near record highs, experts said, citing recent data.
Since taking office in June, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has insisted he will aim to avoid any further lockdown, a pledge his government has kept even as the country of about 9.3 million people regularly records more than 10,000 new cases of Covid per day.
Schools opened on September 1, and synagogues are expected to welcome worshipers, with some restrictions, for Yom Kippur – the most important day in the Jewish calendar – when services begin Wednesday evening.
To remain open, Israel has opted for a complex policy mix that has caused the frustration of families who are forced to organize repeated Covid tests for their children to go to school or participate in other activities.
The backbone of Bennett’s strategy has been the rollout of a third injection of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine to everyone aged 12 and older, ignoring criticism that the booster is unnecessary and unfair.
But the 49-year-old prime minister insisted this week his approach was working.
“A lot of people were skeptical,” he told his cabinet. “But our strategy is working.”
Top public health experts, citing recent data, agreed, telling AFP that even though daily cases remain high, the recall has stemmed the rise in severe Covid cases, staving off a looming crisis on last month.
The third shot
The vaccination rollout in Israel that began last December was among the fastest in the world and reduced infections to a trickle in June, when all pandemic restrictions were lifted.
But when cases started to rise again over the summer, health experts were faced with a key question, said Gabi Barbash, former director general of the Department of Health now at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Was the surge caused by the waning efficacy of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine five months after the second jab, or was the Delta variant’s ability to break vaccine protection to blame?
“When the fourth wave broke, we didn’t know which was the most dominant factor,” Barbash told AFP.
But weeks after the start of the third jab deployment, the number of severe cases – which rose from over 70 in late July to 600 in mid-August – has stabilized, currently sitting below 700. Infections also remain very low among triple jabbed. .
These factors, said Barbash, make it clear that “the decline in immunity is what caused the fourth wave.”
“The Pfizer vaccine clearly loses its effectiveness after five months,” he said.
“And when such waning immunity encounters such transmissible variants (like Delta), it is a disaster.”
He acknowledged criticism, including from the World Health Organization, that offering a third blow was unfair, with some poor countries struggling to offer even one blow.
But Barbash argued that Israel’s small population would not focus on global vaccine supplies and stressed that if Israel had not administered vaccines, it could have seen 1,000 deaths per month.
More than 7,400 Israelis have died from Covid-19.
Cyrille Cohen, a professor of life sciences at Bar Ilan University and a member of the Department of Health’s vaccines committee, cited data from more than 60 people to highlight the impact of the booster.
“If you are not vaccinated, you are about 35 times more likely to develop a severe case if you are over 60, and about eight times more if you have two doses and no booster,” he said. declared.
Hagai Levine, epidemiologist at Hebrew University, told AFP he had been “somewhat skeptical” about the need for a third injection, but that the stabilization of severe cases proved the effort was a “success”.
Test, jab, test
Israelis have expressed frustration with the challenges of booking Covid tests, especially during peak holiday season, when families typically get together.
The arrears have also been caused by the high number of children who have been exposed to the virus and need negative tests to return to school.
At a drive-thru testing center in Jerusalem, Julia Ortenberg, a mother of three, told AFP that a few days after the start of the school year, a classmate of her daughter tested positive for Covid, forcing her class to self-quarantine.
Ortenberg said she was reluctant to vaccinate her 13-year-old son, but without the jab he would have had to take Zoom classes or get a negative Covid test every other day to attend in person, which “didn’t.” was not an option “.
Her preparation for Yom Kippur involved a heavy-handed attempt to book a test for her daughter in order to free her from isolation, taking her son for her second shot, and then taking her daughter for a second test.
Cohen acknowledged the frustrations but said Israel “is still trying to find the right balance in living with Covid-19”.
(This story was not edited by DAILYNEWSCATCH staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)