Despite a recent increase in the number of serious cases in Israel, including among the fully vaccinated, those who received both doses of the vaccine against COVID-19 are significantly less likely to experience severe illness, according to data released by the Israeli Health Ministry.
As of August 16, the ministry recorded 159 severe COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people among the unvaccinated over the age of 60, compared to 20 per 100,000 people among the fully vaccinated. This makes the unvaccinated elderly more than eight times as likely to experience a severe case than their immunized counterparts.
For those under the age of 60, the rate of severe illness among the unvaccinated stood at 2.4 cases per 100,000 people – 2.7 times more than the 0.9 per 100,000 among those who are fully vaccinated.
According to the data, while the risk of experiencing severe symptoms increases with age for both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, it rises much more dramatically among the unvaccinated.
For those aged between 60 and 69, there are 71.8 cases per 100,000 among the unvaccinated, as opposed to only 8.7 for the fully vaccinated. This rises to 208 and 20 cases, respectively, for those aged 70-79 and to 266 and 47 for those aged 80-89.
Speaking with Haaretz during a live Q&A last week, Prof. Ran Balicer, chairman of Israel’s expert panel on COVID-19, said “there’s no question” that people who are unvaccinated are at a higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19.
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“You can see this in the most simple graphs published by the Health Ministry. When you look at Israelis above the age of 60 and you examine severe illness rates – not numbers, rates, which means the number of illnesses per a specific number of the population – then what you see is that among those who are unvaccinated, there’s a considerably higher rate of severe illness than among the vaccinated,” he explained.
While the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine may have waned somewhat over the past several months, those who are vaccinated are protected five to 10 times as much as those who are unable or unwilling to receive the shot, said Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Desert, Be’er Sheva, and head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians.
Both the length of time that has passed since vaccination and a patient’s age can affect the likelihood of their contracting a severe case of COVID-19. “Those who were vaccinated in January are somewhat less protected compared to those vaccinated in, for example, March,” Davidovitch said, adding that it is possible that the more infectious delta variant could also have an impact on the incidence of serious cases.
Israel saw a drop in new coronavirus cases Saturday, with Sunday’s Health Ministry data revealing 2,886 new cases. Serious cases rose to 348 on Saturday, 19 more than the previous day.
Some 5.8 million Israelis have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine. And of them, 422,326 have received three doses as part of the new campaign to give booster shots to the elderly and other vulnerable people.
The Health Ministry said late last month that the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in preventing infection and mild symptoms has dropped to 40 percent, although the data might be skewed because of issues with the small sampling size. It maintained that the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing hospitalizations and severe symptoms stood at 88 percent and 91 percent, respectively.
In a statement on Monday, the Government Press Office said that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz had held a discussion with the CEOs of Israel’s four national health maintenance organizations “in order to increase the pace of vaccinations around the country.”
During a televised speech last month, Bennett accused vaccine refusers of “endangering their health, their surroundings and all Israeli citizens.”
The purpose of the vaccine had less to do with preventing transmission than providing “protection against mortality and severe illness,” although such protection is a “welcome outcome,” explained Prof. Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at Hebrew University and Davidovitch’s predecessor at the Association of Public Health Physicians.
While it now appears that there is “four or five times lower incidence” of severe cases among the vaccinated, a fuller examination of the data, correcting for age and preexisting conditions, may reveal that the vaccine “is even more effective than seen from this graph,” he said.