Experts: Vaccine Immunity Waning, Signs Israel Facing Fifth COVID Wave

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Medical staffer prepares a dose of the COVID vaccine
Medical staffer prepares a dose of the COVID vaccine Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The expert health panel advising Israel's government believes that another COVID wave is on the horizon in light of waning vaccine effectiveness, and that the children's vaccination drive would not be enough by itself to halt the pandemic.

This comes amid the launch of Israel's vaccine drive for children aged five to 11 on Tuesday, and an accelerating infection rate, ending a ten-week standstill of coronavirus' spread in the country. 

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The panel advised the coronavirus cabinet to enact further restrictions, in part because the vaccination of children takes time to come into effect. Among the suggestions is a further test for travelers arriving in Israel after three to five days.

In a coronavirus cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called for officials to begin planning for an antigen test campaign for schools after the upcoming Hanukkah break. The ministers also decided that existing restrictions on indoor spaces should be extended for another two weeks.

Prof. Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute made a presentation on Tuesday in front of the coronavirus cabinet in which he argued that the level of immunity has fallen since November, and that this is reflected by the rise in the number of new confirmed cases.

According to Segal, the reasons for the rise in the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – include the slackened enforcement of restrictions, an increase in infection among children and a fall in immunity among the general public.

"In this reality, vaccines aren't enough to stop the [coronavirus] wave, and we need to continue using all the effective methods that minimize infection without hurting the economy," a summary of the coronavirus cabinet meeting on Tuesday read.

"This includes strengthening public awareness and effectively enforcing Green Pass guidelines and masks in enclosed spaces, as well as renewing the effort of ensuring those exposed to the virus quarantine," it added.

At this stage, the experts do not recommend reinstating restrictions that were recently removed, such as the removal of a Green Pass requirement for sporting and cultural events with up to 100 people in attendance in closed spaces. They stressed the importance of enforcing restrictions during Hanukkah, particularly during activities targeted at children.

Warning signs mounting

The expert panel advising the government on coronavirus also met on Monday, and a report summarizing the discussion shows that they also fear a further wave of the virus.

"At the moment, there is still no clear evidence of a significant outbreak, but it is very likely that one will occur," the report said, citing the fact that a third of the population remains unprotected. This refers to 670,000 unvaccinated Israelis, more than a million people who haven’t received the booster, and children under 12.  

This wasn't the only warning, either. Also on Tuesday, a team of experts from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem published a report indicating that a new coronavirus wave is in the offing.

The team said that the main factors that would drive an increase in the infection rate are waning immunity levels and delays in the distribution of another booster shot. 

The worst case scenario predicted by the researchers would be 2,500 new confirmed cases every day by the end of December, if the current rate of infection continues unabated. The most likely scenario, however, would be a daily increase of 1,600 cases.

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