Despite breakthrough cases among the immunized with the rise of the delta variant, COVID-19 is increasingly becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated in Israel. Those that have yet to receive even one shot of a COVID vaccine are only 17 percent of the eligible population in Israel, but they currently represent 65 percent of all serious cases in the country.
According to Health Ministry data, the ratio of unvaccinated people among the severely ill has continued to rise as more people are inoculated against the virus. As of September 13, out of the 664 severely ill patients, 437 were completely unvaccinated and 168 had received two doses. Only 59 had received the booster shot. The ratios are similar when analyzing new infections.
When calculating per capita, the contrast is even more stark. For every serious case of an Israeli over 60 that had received the booster shot, there are 33 serious cases of unvaccinated Israelis in the same age group.
This is a significant increase over the numbers released on August 25, when the ministry announced that while the unvaccinated only comprised around 20 percent of the eligible population of 7.3 million Israelis over the age of 12, they constituted fully half of all serious COVID-19 cases in the country.
A report from the Center for Information and Knowledge in the Battle Against the Coronavirus released Monday defined the trend as “a rise in serious illness among young, unvaccinated people, alongside a drop in the general morbidity.”
The report adds, “The rise continues in the number of confirmed cases and the seriously ill who aren’t vaccinated – particularly among the unvaccinated under 60. As of today, most of the patients in serious condition are unvaccinated, even though they are a clear minority of the population eligible for vaccines in Israel.”
Despite public health officials' best efforts, some 1,080,000 eligible Israelis remained unvaccinated as of late August, the ministry announced at the time. However, in the weeks since, hundreds of thousands of people have lined up to receive their first dose and the share of the eligible population that remained unvaccinated has declined to 17 percent.
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As of September 13, 6,048,066 people have been vaccinated with at least one dose, up from 5,934,627 on August 25.
“There are about 600,000 people who received their first vaccine over the past three months, so there's been some progress,” said Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute and a member of the Health Ministry's advisory panel.
“We have about 850,000 people above the age of 12 who are not vaccinated yet and we should aim to get to as many of those as possible and the fact we were able to vaccinate 600,000 over the last three months shows that there is a way to reach these people.
"The vast majority of them are not anti-vaxxers and are just procrastinators,” he said, adding that the numbers “tell us that the vaccines work.”
According to the Health Ministry, being unvaccinated strongly correlates with low socioeconomic status and membership in minority groups. At the end of August, the ministry stated that out of the more than a million people eligible for the vaccine who had not yet received the shot at that point, 16 percent belong to the ultra-Orthodox community and 31 percent were Israeli Arabs.
The gap between vaccinated and unvaccinated is even greater when calculating per capita: For every death of an Israeli over 60 that had received the booster shot, there are roughly 15 deaths of unvaccinated Israelis in the same age group.
Despite the decreasing effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing infection, it still provides significant protection against severe illness and the booster appears to help increase waning protection against transmission as well. Last month, a Maccabi Healthcare Maintenance Office study found that the booster shot was 86 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection among people 60 and older.