After the delta variant, which was at the center of Israel’s fourth COVID-19 wave, this weekend we learned a new, sinister name – omicron.
This variant of the coronavirus was first identified in laboratories in South Africa and has since been detected in Israel and other Western countries. In response the government, as in other countries, moved to restrict air travel from South Africa and neighboring states in order to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Additional measures are being considered. The new variant contains dozens of mutations, so it is not yet clear how effective the leading vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, are against it. The efficacy of the existing vaccines will become clear in a few weeks, and if needed the drug companies can upgrade existing vaccines.
However, it is already undeniable that vaccines are the safest way to prevent severe illness and death, and of course to maintain regular life between COVID-19 waves.
Last week the World Health Organization reported that the vaccine is 40 percent effective in protecting against infection with the delta variant (compared to 60 percent for previous strains), but is highly effective in reducing severe illness.
The decision to vaccinate the Israeli population with a booster shot has been proved correct, and now the booster is being recommended in Europe and the United States.
The booster shot has helped reduce the number of those falling severely ill, the overload in hospitals, and the infection rate. At the height of the fourth wave the average number of daily new infections stood at 9,494, and last week the daily average was only 424.
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At least 6.3 million Israelis have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and more than 4 million have received three doses. While early on Israel was considered an international success story in combating COVID-19, in the past two months the rate of vaccination has come to a halt.
The spread of anti-vaccination fake news and a flaccid effort by the government to locate and encourage vaccine-resistant individuals, are preventing Israel from reaching vaccination rates that will protect most of the population and allow us to move on.
The coronavirus vaccine has been tested on hundreds of millions of human beings, and is recommended for use from age 5 by the world’s leading physicians.
Each of us has a duty to get vaccinated to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the population at large. Even if vaccine efficacy turns out to be lower against the omicron variant it will still inhibit infection, and according to health experts reduce severe illness as well.
Accordingly, the WHO calls on everyone to get vaccinated, but also to keep practicing safety measures to reduce illness – masks, hand-washing and maintaining quarantine when required.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.