In Israel, Young and Unvaccinated Replace Elderly in COVID Wards

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Medical professionals in protective equipment work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, last month.
Medical professionals in protective equipment work in the coronavirus ward at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, last month.Credit: Maya Alleruzzo / AP Photo
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

More than a million Israelis who qualify to be vaccinated have not yet gotten the coronavirus vaccine. That includes about 110,000 people 60 and over, and about 90,000 between the ages of 50 and 59.

People’s reluctance to get vaccinated comes despite the fact that the clear majority of seriously ill COVID-19 hospital patients have not gotten the vaccine. That’s particularly true now after the booster shot, has provided even greater protection to Israelis at risk.

Among Israelis between the age of 40 and 49, the number of unvaccinated increases to 145,000 and in the 30 to 39 age group, about 15 percent of the population – 180,000 people – remain unvaccinated. There are 230,000 people in their twenties who have not gotten inoculated and 350,000 younger people over the age of 12 who are eligible for the vaccine but have not gotten the shot.

Israel recorded 2,616 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, Health Ministry data shows. While Saturday's 2,616 cases seems like a significant decline from 4,937 the previous day, official data shows that only 68,180 tests were conducted on Saturday compared to 118,811 on Friday.

Since the positive test rate slightly declined from 4.3 percent on Friday to 3.96 percent on Saturday, the sudden drop in the number of tests may explain the significant change in the number of new cases. In addition, Israel reported the number of patients in serious condition rose to 711 compared to 694 on the previous day.

Some 1,026 COVID patients are currently hospitalized, of whom 215 are on ventilators. Almost all the patients in serious condition have not been vaccinated, and most are aged 40 to 60.

While 3,189,477 Israelis have already received their booster shot, nine months after Israel first began its vaccination campaign, there are still over 1 million eligible people who have chosen to remain unvaccinated, most of them young people.

The most prominent common denominator among seriously ill patients currently filling up the coronavirus wards and intensive care units of Israeli hospitals is that they are not vaccinated. The change in the profile of seriously ill patients is a result of the more infectious nature of the delta variant, the waning protection that the first two doses of the vaccine provided as well as the government policy that followed – the decision to carry out a mass campaign to administer the third shot.

Most of the seriously ill are drawn from among the roughly 240,000 unvaccinated Israelis between the age of 40 and 60. A smaller portion of the seriously ill patients are from among the 400,000 unvaccinated people in their twenties and thirties.

“At the beginning of [this pandemic] wave, we were still seeing elderly vaccinated patients hospitalized, who also weathered serious illness better thanks to the vaccine, but they’ve disappeared with the administration of the booster shot,” said Dr. Noa Eliakim-Raz, the director of the coronavirus department at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva. “Today, we’re seeing only unvaccinated patients and their illness is more serious the entire way along.”

The contrast between vaccinated and unvaccinated patients at the hospital is huge, she said: “We can tell from the chest X-ray and the patients’ vital signs in the emergency room whether they’ve been vaccinated even before we’ve spoken to them.”

“It’s very sad. Young vaccinated people are getting more seriously ill, in a way that they couldn’t have imagined,” she added.

The situation is similar at hospitals around the country. “All of our patients now are unvaccinated,” said Prof. Philip Levin, the director of the intensive care unit at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. “For the past month and a half actually, I haven’t treated any vaccinated people.”

The deputy director of Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, Dr. Tsvi Sheleg, made special note of the challenge with patients whose condition goes from serious to critical, who need ventilators and some of whom require ECMO heart-lung machines. “These are patients whose pulmonary damage during the illness and afterward is at the level of a disability and they won’t return to functioning well. Some of them won’t survive at all,” he said. “The vast majority of this group of patients is unvaccinated,” he noted. “Unvaccinated people are playing a game of roulette and running the risk of very serious illness.”

Prof. Dror Mevorach, the director of the coronavirus department at the Hadassah University Hospital at Ein Karem in Jerusalem said that at his hospital, more than 90 percent of the patients in critical condition and among those requiring an ECMO machine are unvaccinated young people.

Of particular concern, recently noted the director of the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa, Prof. Michael Halbertal, is that the rate at which seriously ill patients are dying in the current COVID-19 wave is very high. “If in prior waves we would see a fatality for every eight or nine hospitalized patients, in the current wave, the number is one in five,” he said.

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