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Stats show shunning shots 'like driving without safety belt'

From Israel with hope: Best data yet suggests vaccines will empty COVID wards

Of first 1.82 million immunized, only 0.07% became virus positive, 122 were hospitalized, 23 died. If everyone had shots, we’d only need a ‘few dozen’ virus beds, says top MD

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A Israeli woman receives a vaccination in Jerusalem, on February 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A Israeli woman receives a vaccination in Jerusalem, on February 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

New national data shows that just one in 1,500 fully vaccinated Israelis has tested positive for COVID-19, giving the strongest indication yet that widespread inoculation has the power to empty virus wards.

Of 1.82 million people who were inoculated by early February, only 1,248 — 0.07 percent — had tested positive by February 25, according to data from an internal Health Ministry forum that was released to The Times of Israel on Monday.

And while Israel’s hospitals are still in crisis mode, with 1,247 virus patients, including some 742 in serious condition, the stats show that almost all of them are unvaccinated. Only 122 fully vaccinated people — meaning at least one week after their second shot — have ended up in hospitals, of whom 73 deteriorated to serious condition.

While fatalities have not stopped completely among the inoculated, there were just 23 COVID deaths in that population. Almost all shots used in Israel so far have come from Pfizer.

Hospital team members work at the Coronavirus ward of the Ziv medical center in the northern Israeli city of Safed, on December 17, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

In hospitals, doctors reacted optimistically to the data. Prof. Eyal Leshem, a senior member of the coronavirus team at Sheba Medical Center, said it reassured him that patient numbers will soon drop — and constituted a clarion call for vaccination.

Dr. Eyal Leshem of Sheba Medical Center (courtesy of Sheba Medical Center)

“This data indicates that in a theoretical situation where we have 100% vaccine coverage, we would only need a few dozen COVID beds in the whole country, and only a handful for patients in serious condition,” he said, adding that a more realistic situation of high but not total coverage would still drastically reduce patient numbers.

Leshem claimed that this, and research reported by The Times of Israel Sunday on the radical reduction of ventilator use among Israel’s most-vaccinated age group, those 70-plus, shows that serious coronavirus illness has become almost entirely an avoidable phenomenon.

“It indicates that people who are not vaccinating are akin to people who drive without safety belts,” he declared.

The Health Ministry suggested that while it reported that 1,248 vaccine-protected people tested positive, it believes the actual number is lower. This is because 648 of them were diagnosed within the first two weeks when the state considers them immune. Epidemiologists believe that some of them caught the virus before they achieved immunity.

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