Israel Reports COVID Vaccine Effectiveness Against Infection Down to 40%; Data Might Be Skewed

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A woman wearing a mask at a shopping center in Jerusalem, earlier this year.
A woman wearing a mask at a shopping center in Jerusalem, earlier this year.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The Health Ministry said Thursday that the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in preventing infection and mild symptoms has dropped to 40 percent, according to data collected over the past month as the delta variant spreads in Israel.

Notably, the data might be skewed because a significant portion of the coronavirus tests in Israel were conducted in hot spots and among the elderly, while a small number of tests was carried out among the young and vaccinated population.

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One medical expert who is consulting the Health Ministry said that the data is still too distorted to make a reliable assessment of the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing infection and mild symptoms.   

The effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing hospitalizations and severe symptoms stands at 88 percent and 91 percent, respectively, the ministry said.   

In a televised address, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meanwhile called on Israelis who haven’t been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.

“The Israeli government is investing billions so that there is a vaccine available in every location in the country, and there are still a million Israelis who simply refuse to be vaccinated,” he said. “The vaccine refusers are endangering their health, their surroundings and all Israeli citizens. If a million Israelis continue to be unvaccinated, this will force the others to shut themselves in at home.”

Earlier Thursday, the country's coronavirus cabinet approved reinstating restrictions, which, pending government approval, will go into effect next Thursday.  Events with over 100 participants – both indoors and outdoors – will only be allowed to include people who have been vaccinated, have recovered, or have a negative test result, if they are age 12 or older.

People will also be required to present a vaccination certificate at cultural or sports events, gyms, restaurants, conferences, tourist attractions, and houses of worship.

Furthermore, beginning on August 8, unvaccinated people will have to pay for their own coronavirus tests, except for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. Those attending weddings and parties will have to present proof of immunity, even if they are younger than 12.  

Two weeks ago, the Health Ministry said its updated figures showed that the vaccine's effectiveness in preventing symptomatic illness had fallen to 64 percent, and in preventing serious illness by 93 percent. 

A study published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that two doses of Pfizer's shot was 88 percent effective at preventing symptomatic disease from the delta variant, compared to 93.7 percent against the alpha variant, broadly the same as previously reported.

This week, Israel began administering a third dose of Pfizer- BioNTech vaccine to adults with compromised immune systems. There are no plans to give booster shots to the general population, after experts said they did not think it was necessary. 

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