Israel Vaccinates More Than Half Its Population, but Still Far From COVID-19 Herd Immunity

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Israelis having drinks in a bar in Tel Aviv, this month.
Israelis having drinks in a bar in Tel Aviv, this month. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

More than 50 percent of Israelis have received both doses of the coronavirus vaccine, according to figures released by the Health Ministry three months after Israel launched its world-beating vaccination roll-out.

So far, 4,655,955 Israelis have received both doses and 5,203,644 – making up 55.96 percent of the population – have received the first dose. But these figures are still insufficient to achieve herd immunity, which according to estimates requires up to 80 percent of the population be vaccinated.  

In addition, the COVID-19 infection rate known as the R number – the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – has continued to decline and currently stands at 0.55.

According to figures released by the ministry, 470 new cases were diagnosed on Wednesday, with 1.1 percent of all tests conducted that day coming back positive.

Furthermore, the number of active cases in Israel now stands at 12,906, 482 of whom are in serious condition.

Distribution of the Pfizer vaccine in Israel began in December, with eligibility extended to citizens and residents over the age of 16 – some 69 percent of the 9.3 million population. Those who have been inoculated are deemed fully protected a week after receiving the second shot.

In a statement announcing the milestone amid a sustained drop in new COVID-19 cases, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on citizens "to follow (health) guidelines so that the coronavirus does not return".

He said 50.07 percent of the overall population had received both vaccine doses, and 55.96 percent the first dose. Israel issues the fully vaccinated, and the around 8.7 percent of its population who have recovered from COVID-19 with presumed immunity, so-called "Green Pass" certificates that confer access to various leisure venues.

The country has seen an 85 percent drop in daily COVID-19 deaths, a 72 percent decrease in the critically ill and 86 percent fewer daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic's third peak in mid-January, according to Eran Segal, a data scientist at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told Reuters he estimated that the entire population eligible for vaccination will be fully inoculated by the end of May.

'Herd immunity not a must'

About a third of the country is under 16 and cannot be vaccinated until the shot is deemed safe for children. This month the health ministry said that recovered COVID-19 patients could get vaccinated with one jab administered at least three months after recovery.

According to data, the Pfizer vaccine rolled out in Israel is 98.9 percent effective in preventing death two weeks after the second dose. More data analysis from Israel shows a person fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with Pfizer's inoculation has a one in 1,000 chance of contracting the disease.

Prof. Ran Balicer, the director of the Clalit Research Institute, said that Israel will resume pre-COVID routine even before reaching herd Immunity. "Herd immunity is not a must to reach a dramatic result."

"The term 'indirect protection,' which says that even without reaching herd immunity, the more the number of daily confirmed cases goes down, the bigger effect it would have on indirect protection. When 60 percent of the population is vaccinated, it's enough for the infection rate to go down. This in addition to wearing masks and social distancing are enough to curb infection rates," Balicer said.

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