Covid-19: How Israel Is Battling With Its Third Wave
Covid-19 instances have been progressively increasing in Israel since mid-July despite being one of the most vaccinated countries in the world.
Israel, one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, believed that it had seen the last of Covid-19 in March, and masks had almost disappeared from the public places. But once again, the coronavirus hit the Middle East nation, which is now considered to be a high-risk destination, according to some countries.
Out of the population of over 9 million, more than 5.8 million people have received at least one vaccine dose and more than 5.4 million got two doses of anti-Covid vaccines.
However, Covid-19 instances have been progressively increasing in Israel since mid-July. According to the authorities, this is mostly among unvaccinated people, although there have been cases of breakthrough infections.
While citing some studies, the Israel health ministry stated that vaccine protection diminishes over time, particularly against the highly contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2. So, while understanding such a challenging situation, Israel wants individuals to receive the third dosage of the Covid-19 vaccine to enhance the immune system and improve their chances of surviving the disease.
According to The Times of Israel, on 16 August, Israeli officials stated that more than one million Israelis had received the third-dose booster shot through yet another immunisation campaign. Almost two weeks ago, the government launched the campaign, asking Israelis aged 60 and above to obtain their third shot, which officials hope will help protect Israel's most vulnerable from disease.
According to health ministry numbers released on 16 August evening, the number of serious Covid-19 cases in Israel had decreased somewhat from the previous day, indicating that the third vaccine booster given to older Israelis was starting to take effect. The number of active cases has risen to almost 53,000, up from roughly 200 just two months ago.
The health ministry has clarified that the rate of serious cases was far higher among unvaccinated Israelis aged 60 and above, who accounted for 151.5 individuals per 100,000 in serious condition on 16 August, compared to 19.3 among the vaccinated and 40.9 among the partially vaccinated.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said: "The vaccine is the most effective method we have to battle the Delta variant, to protect our health, our economy and our daily routine. We took care to have enough vaccines in stock for everyone who can do so to vaccinate. The time to take advantage of that is now. A million recipients of the third vaccine in two weeks is a good result, but it's not enough."
He also stated that "the only way to get through this crisis without a lockdown is to continue the high rate of third-dose vaccination and to vaccinate those who haven't [been vaccinated at all] yet".
According to some early reports, Israel has also started to vaccinate children between 12 and 15 years of age against Covid-19.
The Return of Covid-19
Around 16 July this year, when daily infections were only 19.29, the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases per day (on a rolling 7-day average) began to grow. By 16 August, the daily average had risen to 5,950.43 infections.
Israel averaged zero deaths per day between May, June and July. However, by 15 August, the healthcare officials were averaging two new verified Covid-19 related deaths per day and within a day, it has risen to nearly five.
Even though in Israel there has been significant hesitancy about declaring Delta as the dominant variant, the latest statement by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett suggested that this variant is behind many of the coronavirus cases in the country.
He said on 14 August that "the outbreak of the Delta strain around the world and in Israel" was "engulfing the world". Additionally, the health ministry said: "A marked decline in the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing infection (64 per cent) and symptomatic illness (64 per cent) [since 6 June]. This decline has been observed simultaneously with the spread of the Delta variant in Israel."
At that time, it was also reported that ending social distancing restrictions may have played a role in fuelling the spread of the virus in Israel. In June, the country lifted its mask mandate—both indoor and outdoor—which was one of its last remaining restrictions. But within a few days, Israel reintroduced the requirement to wear masks indoors amid a rise in cases.
In the case of vaccines, the country approved two jabs—Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech—both of which are mRNA vaccines with an effectiveness of over 90 per cent.
It needs to be understood that none of the Covid-19 vaccines provides 100 per cent efficacy, and the number of antibodies individuals produce varies. So, understanding these facts, scientists have said that the "breakthrough infections" could occur—which happens when a fully vaccinated person tests positive for the disease.
For example, after the United States began its vaccination campaign, health officials stated that vaccinated individuals are extremely unlikely to become infected, experience major disease or die. However, preliminary data from the states suggested that the Delta variant's arrival in July may have changed this concept, as breakthrough infections accounted for at least one out of every five diagnosed cases in six American states.
Since the emergence of the Delta variant, which the World Health Organization consider as the variant of concern, it has been claimed to be capable of reducing the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines to some extent, including the Pfizer-BioNTech.
A Nature article suggested that the Delta variant, first identified in India and triggered its second Covid-19 wave, is moderately vaccination resistant, especially in individuals who have only had a single dose.
While citing a Public Health England study, published on 22 May, the article noted that "a single dose of either AstraZeneca's or Pfizer's vaccine reduced a person's risk of developing Covid-19 symptoms caused by the Delta variant by 33 per cent, compared to 50 per cent for the Alpha variant [first identified in the United Kingdom]".
It was also stated that "a second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine boosted protection against Delta to 60 per cent (compared to 66 per cent against Alpha), while two doses of Pfizer's jab were 88 per cent effective (compared to 93 per cent against Alpha).
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