Israel’s program of booster jabs has proven effective in reducing severe cases of Covid, even though new infections are hovering near record highs, experts said, citing recent data.
Since taking office in June, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has insisted he will aim to avoid any new lockdown, a promise his government has kept, even though the country of about 9.3 million people regularly registers more than 10,000 new Covid cases a day .
Schools opened on September 1, and synagogues are set to welcome worshipers, with some restrictions, to Yom Kippur – the most important day of the Jewish calendar – when services begin on Wednesday night.
To stay open, Israel has chosen a complex political mix that has caused frustration for families who are forced to organize repeated Covid tests for their children to go to school or participate in other activities.
The backbone of Bennett’s strategy has been the rollout of a third shot of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine for anyone aged 12 and over, ignoring criticism that booster jab is unnecessary and unfair.
But the 49-year-old premier this week insisted his approach worked.
“A lot of people were skeptical,” he told his cabinet. “But our strategy shows.”
Top public health experts, citing recent data, agreed to tell AFP, although daily cases are still high, the booster shot has dampened the rise in serious Covid cases, averting a crisis that was on the way last month.
The third shot
Israel’s rollout of vaccinations, which began in December last year, was among the fastest in the world, bringing infections to a halt in June, when all pandemic restrictions were lifted.
But as cases began to rise again through the summer, health experts faced a key issue, said Gabi Barbash, a former director general of the health ministry now with the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Had the increase been caused by the declining effectiveness of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine five months after the second sting, or was the Delta variant’s ability to break through the vaccine protection to blame?
“When the fourth wave broke out, we were not sure which one was the more dominant factor,” Barbash told AFP.
But weeks after the third rollout of the jab began, the number of serious cases — which shot up from more than 70 in late July to 600 in mid-August — has stabilized and is currently below 700. Infections are also very low among the triple jabbed.
These factors, Barbash said, make it clear that “declining immunity is the cause of the fourth wave.”
“The Pfizer vaccine is clearly declining in effectiveness after five months,” he said.
“And when such diminished immunity meets such transferable variants (as Delta), it’s a disaster.”
He acknowledged criticism, especially from the World Health Organization, that it was unfair to offer third jabs as some poor countries struggled to offer even a single shot.
But Barbash argued that Israel’s small population would not emphasize global vaccine supplies, stressing that if Israel had not fired, it could have seen 1,000 deaths a month.
More than 7,400 Israelis have died from Covid-19.
Cyrille Cohen, a professor of life sciences at Bar Ilan University and a member of the Department of Health’s vaccine committee, cited data from the over 60 demographic to highlight the impact of the booster shot.
“If you are not vaccinated, you are about 35 times more likely to develop a serious case if you are over 60 and about eight times more if you have two doses and no booster shots,” he said.
Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at Hebrew University, told AFP he had been “somewhat skeptical” about the need for a third shot, but that the stabilization of serious cases showed the effort was a “success”.
Test, jab, test
Israelis have expressed frustration over the challenges of ordering Covid tests, especially during the high holiday season, when families typically gather.
Delays are also caused by the high number of children who have been exposed to the virus and need negative tests to get back to school.
In a run-through test center in Jerusalem, mother of three Julia Ortenberg told AFP that a few days after starting school, a classmate of her daughter tested positive for Covid, forcing her class into quarantine.
Ten days into the school year, 44,000 students were confirmed sick with Covid and 119,000 more isolated, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.
Ortenberg said she was reluctant to vaccinate her 13-year-old son, but without the plug he would have had to attend classes at Zoom or get a negative Covid test every other day to attend in person, which “was not a possibility” .
Her prelude to Yom Kippur involved a fierce attempt to book a test for her daughter to free her from isolation, take her son to her second socket, and then take her daughter to another test.
Cohen acknowledged the frustrations, but said Israel was still “trying to find the right balance to live with Covid-19”.
(This story is not edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed.)