Israel faces a severe fourth wave of Covid-19 after the arrival of the delta variant in early July. A month and a half later, the country faces a significant increase in the number of infected people, hospitalizations and deaths, even with one of the highest vaccination rates in the world: almost 60% of the population. – 74% of those over 12 – are completely immune.
The percentage may have brought Israel closer to herd immunity to the original virus. But this is certainly no longer sufficient in the age of the delta. Thus, there is growing evidence that current drugs provide less effective protection five months after application. And, as the country began mass vaccination at the end of December, most of those vaccinated received their second dose longer ago.
Since the start of the pandemic, 6,748 people have died from Covid in Israel, including 262 from August 1 to 19, when the weekly average reached 21 victims per day. The last time there was a similar figure was on March 2, when the country emerged from the third wave thanks to vaccination. In April, daily deaths had never exceeded three, with a few days without deaths.
The indices rose again after the arrival of the delta variant. On Thursday (19), more than 8,300 people were diagnosed with coronavirus – the highest number since February 1. The number of hospitalizations is also the highest since the beginning of April: around 600 people are hospitalized in serious condition, of which around 90% have not been vaccinated or have only received a single dose of the immunizing agent.
So, the Israelis, who thought they had gotten rid of the pandemic after a year and a half, saw the government re-impose the use of masks indoors and almost all restrictions related to congestion and at a distance – including the so-called “green pass”. , which only allows vaccinated people to enter places such as restaurants, hotels, stadiums, theaters, cinemas and gymnasiums.
And other unprecedented measures are adopted. The first and most important is the application of the third dose of the vaccine manufactured by Pfizer, the only one used in Israel, in all residents over 40 years of age. The country was the first to choose this route, on July 30, and to date more than 1.2 million people have already received the additional dose. Teachers and pregnant women vaccinated for more than five months can also be reinforced. In two weeks, anyone can take one more dose.
“The third dose is very important! The vast majority of those killed did not receive the vaccine as they should, ”Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, 49, said when receiving the third dose on Friday (20). “Of 105 recent coronavirus deaths, 103 were from people who had not completed the required vaccinations. There is no room for another opinion. Science and facts prove that vaccines save lives.
The results of the new effort are already visible. The Maccabi Health Plan released data on Wednesday (18) indicating that the booster has so far been found to be 86% effective in preventing infections in the elderly, a very high rate given the drop in the effectiveness of the two previous doses just below 16% in this age group. According to the study, out of 149,144 people who received the third dose, only 37 contracted the virus. In the group of 149,144 who took only two doses, 1,064 were infected.
“The vaccine has once again proven effective,” said Anat Ekka Zohar, who led the study. “She also demonstrated protection against the delta variant. The triple dose is the solution to contain the current epidemic. “
Professor Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute is also optimistic. He noted that the rate of newly infected and seriously ill people had already started to decline. According to data from the Ministry of Health, 594 critically ill patients were hospitalized on Friday, a reduction of seven from the previous day – if nothing was done, the institute estimates that the number should already be 768.
“The numbers are good, but I still cannot say that we have stopped the corona,” warned Salman Zarka, general manager of Ziv Medical Center and considered “the coronavirus czar” in Israel.
In addition to the third dose, authorities have also adopted rapid antigen testing in children aged 3 to 11. Not being authorized to be vaccinated and therefore to obtain a “green pass”, they can enter the places requiring the document only after having presented a negative test.
One of the government’s biggest concerns now is back to school on September 1. In order to map the most problematic cities, the Ministry of Health is carrying out tests that check for the presence of antibodies in all children aged 3 to 11, in addition to performing rapid exams before each school day. In the case of pupils over 12 years old – already authorized to be vaccinated – there will be no daily checks, but a class that does not have 70% of vaccinated pupils will follow distance learning courses.
“We are in a race against the pandemic,” said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who has met some groups who are reluctant to receive the immunizing agent. If before the delta, negationists or hesitant people in general did not bother so much, they are now seen as an obstacle to the decline in numbers.
In the case of the third dose, for example, 60% of the population over 50 has already been immunized. But among Arab Israelis and ultra-Orthodox, this index is respectively 10% and 25%. Both groups are suspicious of medical authorities and tend to believe more in fake news and anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, as well as some Russian and Ethiopian immigrants.
They are also reluctant to receive even the first dose of young people between the ages of 18 and 30, ignoring the fact that even asymptomatic they can infect older people who are not immune to severe cases of the disease. New mass vaccination efforts are also hampered by those who claim to be anti-vaccination ideologically. Even if they are few in number, they make a lot of noise on social networks or in the streets.
At the same time, more and more threats are starting to emerge, such as the new lambda variant, first detected in Peru – 25 cases have already been identified in Israel. For now, however, Prime Minister Bennett has ruled out another total economic shutdown: “A lockdown will destroy the future of the country.”