Israel sees 60% drop in hospitalizations for age 60-plus 3 weeks after 1st shot

Full effects of Pfizer’s shots only kick in around a month after inoculation, but data from Israel shows there is a stark drop in infections even before that point

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

A medic in a coronavirus ward at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem (courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)
A medic in a coronavirus ward at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem (courtesy of Hadassah Medical Center)

Vaccines are quickly averting serious cases of COVID-19 among the most vulnerable members of society, an Israeli healthcare provider has indicated.

The full effects of Pfizer’s vaccine are only slated to kick in around a month after the first shot, but data from Israel, home to the world’s fastest vaccination drive, has already shown that there is a stark drop in infections even before this point.

Attracting widespread international interest by sharing early data, Maccabi Healthcare Services reported earlier this month that it has seen a 60 percent reduction in coronavirus infections three weeks after the first shot is administered.

But it wasn’t clear if the benefits were being felt equally by those who have a propensity to mild infection and those who would be likely to take COVID-19 badly.

An Israeli man receives a coronavirus vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Now, Maccabi is starting to answer the question that hospitals and health ministers around the world are anxiously asking, amid fears of health service meltdowns: How quickly will COVID-19 wards start to see the benefits of vaccination?

The decrease in hospital admissions is swift after vaccination, Maccabi suggests in its latest data, finding that hospitalizations start to fall sharply from Day 18 after people receive the first shot. Galia Rahav, head of infectious diseases at Israel’s largest hospital, Sheba Medical Center, described the data as “very important.”

By Day 23, which is 2 days after the second shot, there is a 60% drop in hospitalizations among vaccinated people aged 60-plus, Maccabi revealed after monitoring 50,777 patients. It compared their hospitalization rate at that point with their hospitalization rate soon after receiving the vaccine, using 7-day moving averages.

Israeli Prof. Galia Rahav in Tel Aviv on June 22, 2020.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

“This is very important data,” Rahav, who is unconnected to the study, told The Times of Israel. “It has an impact because amid high infection rates and the spread of variants it’s hard to see from general figures how vaccination is influencing things.

“By giving an insight into hospitalizations among just those elderly people who were vaccinated, this data is valuable.”

However, she cautioned that some of the drop may be due to a tendency of newly vaccinated people to adhere to lockdown rules, which causes a drop in infection and hospitalization.

The new data also supports Maccabi’s earlier claim of a 60% infection rate drop after three weeks, reporting that it saw the same drop with a new sample comprising only the 60-plus age group.

Maccabi’s graph gives a real picture of infection in Israel, showing that until Day 13, vaccinated over-60s had similar infection rates as the overall 60-plus population. Then, a gap opens, and by Day 23, there were 18 daily infections among the 50,777 overall, but just six among the vaccinated.

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