Israel has been at the forefront of adult and adolescent vaccine launches, pioneered a vaccine passport, and, in recent months, has spearheaded the use of booster vaccines.
Now, a person is not considered fully vaccinated in Israel until they have received a third dose of the vaccine, once they are eligible for it.
More than three months later, Israeli health officials say the data is clear: the booster injections helped reduce the fourth wave of the virus that hit the country in August and September.
At its peak, that wave saw more than 8,000 new Covid-19 cases a day and more than 500 people hospitalized at a time in serious condition.
The current seven-day average is between 450 and 500 cases per day, and there are 129 people hospitalized in serious condition with the virus.
The data highlight marked differences between those who had the vaccine (and the booster) and those who did not: in many days during the last month, more than 75% of the positive cases were among those not vaccinated, according to data from the Ministry of Health .
Among those hospitalized with Covid-19 it is even clearer: Israeli officials said in October that the rate of people over 60 in serious condition who had only received two doses of the vaccine was 5 times higher than that of people with three. injections.
And while the number of cases has generally declined since then, the differences persist: On Sunday, there were four times as many people over the age of 60 in serious condition who had received only two injections, compared to those considered fully vaccinated with three doses, according to the ministry of health.
Lessons from Israel
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has cited this data as a reason why he believes that everyone will soon be recommended to receive boosters once they are eligible.
“If you look strictly at the data from Israel, it is very clear that the differences in immunity decline are much more profound in the elderly, but it is a general thing,” Fauci told NBC last week.
Israel’s lesson is one that more and more nations are learning, particularly as cases reach worrying levels in parts of Europe.
Health experts say the launch of booster vaccines in many Western nations highlights the inequity of vaccine deployment in other parts of the world.
In contrast, only 10% of people in African countries have received a first dose, on average, according to Our World In Data; Only 7% of Africa is fully vaccinated, the data shows.
Fifth wave fears
But the news from Israel is not entirely good: Although the number of cases has fallen since September, the decline has stalled. And, what is even more worrying, the R rate, the average number of people infected per person with Covid-19, is again above 1, according to data from the Ministry of Health, a worrying sign that the virus may be spreading again.
Health experts, such as Professor Eran Segal of Israel’s Weizmann Institute, say it is too early to tell if the country is entering a fifth wave of the virus. But they point to the fact that nearly 1.5 million people who have received two doses of the vaccine have not received the booster shot again.
“There are more people whose vaccine has faded over time, compared to the number of new vaccines and boosters, which has led to a slow decline in total [population’s] immunity, “Segal tweeted last week.
Now Israel is working to stem that potential fifth wave: Officials are encouraging the unvaccinated to get vaccinated and those who are eligible for booster doses. They are also vaccinating children and keeping up with preventive measures.
Many of Israel’s new infections are among children ages five to 11, according to Israeli health officials. A campaign began on Monday to vaccinate that age group.
“About 50% of our daily infections occur in that age group under 11,” Dr. Ran Balicer, chairman of Israel’s National Covid-19 Expert Advisory Panel, told CNN last Friday. “We believe this vaccination campaign could turn the tide and perhaps bring us back to a downward slope if we have a good rebound. [in vaccinations]as we hope we will. ”
But even with a highly vaccinated population, health experts say it is vital that anti-Covid measures remain in place, especially during winter as activities move indoors.
Nachman Ash, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Public Health, told Israel’s Channel 13 that part of the reason for the increase in cases is that people do not adhere to rules such as wearing masks.
“The app is not enough,” Ash said. “And I see that the public is relaxing as time goes by and the infection rate decreases, so people are less careful. So, yes, we have to increase the application.”
Balicer cautioned that ignoring the waning immunity of those who have received two doses of the vaccine “may, in fact, put people at risk with false security.”
“There is no magic formula that is sufficient to ensure the prevention of surges, especially in winter,” said Balicer. “It is a combination of measures: indoor masks, population behavior, indoor event restrictions and ecological certificates, and an effective reinforcement campaign.