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The One Thing Israel Must Do Now to Curb Its Raging COVID Pandemic

15 11 1
26.09.2021

On May 15, 2021, Israel decided it had conquered COVID-19 and did away with the last restriction – the mandate to wear masks in closed spaces. The decision, which came two weeks after the cancellation of the Green Pass and as part of the de facto disbanding of the Magen Israel program (the national COVID-19 command and control center), was based on accumulated evidence to wide population protection – reaching close to herd immunity.

Indeed, a steady, exponential decline in infection and illness over a period of three months, despite a gradual lifting of all the restrictions, led to a welcome historic low in infections as well as two consecutive weeks without a single person dying from the virus in Israel.

Three months later, incidence rates are once again among the highest globally: 1,000 new cases a day per million in the population, and about 20 people dying every day – about one sixth of the expected daily death toll during this season. How did we reach this point and what can be done from here on?

A perfect storm

The high vaccine uptake rate we reached in June was a direct result of the world’s fastest vaccination campaign. The over tenfold reduction in the risk of being infected (and infecting others) among those vaccinated was established in Israel not only in large retrospective studies published in the highest-tier medical journals shortly after vaccination, but also in a broad, prolonged follow-up local study. In this study, Clalit Health Services conducted repeated PCR tests on over 1,000 vaccinated and unvaccinated health workers over several months – and it was shown that the vaccines prevent over 90 percent of infections, even after three months.

■ Israel's 17% unvaccinated account for 85% of ECMO patients
■ And 65% of serious cases and half of deaths

■ Booster shot increases protection elevenfold, data shows
■ ‘U.S. is months behind Israel on boosters’
■ Prominent Israeli anti-vaxxer dies of COVID
■ Israeli anti-vaxxers’ most crooked, toxic claim

Yet in the background were looming three critical vulnerabilities: the risk of the appearance of new and infectious variants; the risk of the weakening of protection from the vaccination; and the risk of the appearance of a new variant immune to the vaccine.

And indeed, the protective effect of the two vaccine doses gradually was waning, and earlier than expected by the experts at the time. After the fact, we know that vaccine effectiveness weakened gradually until June, but this effect remained hidden, since in combination with the additional restrictions (Green Pass, masks, the activity of the Alon Command Center epidemiological investigations), the partial residual immunity was sufficient to suppress outbreaks driven by variants that were not highly infectious, such as alpha.

In June, the delta variant, which is 1.5 times as infectious as its predecessor, entered the hidden and widening crack in the population’s “wall” of protective immunity, caused by weakening vaccination effect and lifting of all restrictions. This triple combination of widespread waning immunity of a population vaccinated at the same time, the removal of restrictions in face of the usual crowded and........

© Haaretz


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