'Third dose of the vaccine is extremely efficient'

Israeli study: COVID booster shots 92% effective at preventing serious illness

Research published in Lancet also finds 3rd shot 81% more effective in preventing deaths compared to those who’ve had only 2 shots at least 5 months ago

An Israeli woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a Clalit clinic in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90 )
An Israeli woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a Clalit clinic in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90 )

A large-scale Israeli study published Friday showed that a third booster shot was 92% effective in preventing serious illness compared to those who received only two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

The study conducted by Israel’s largest HMO Clalit Health Services, with funding from Harvard Medical School, was published in the Lancet medical journal based on a study of 728,321 people who received the third shot compared to a control group of a similar number who received only two shots at least five months before.

According to the report the third dose of 93% effective at preventing admission to the hospital, with the health service recording 231 instances of hospitalization for the two-dose group, compared to 29 for those who got a booster shot.

Similarly, the rate stood at 92% for severe disease with 157 cases in the control group compared to 17 among those in the third shot category.

The study also found the booster shot was 81% effective in preventing COVID-related deaths, with just seven recorded among those who got the booster shot compared to 44 deaths for those without.

The study period was July 30, 2020, to September 23, 202 and participants had a median age of 51 years old.  Israel has almost exclusively used the Pfizer shot.

Both groups reported significantly lower numbers of hospitalizations and deaths than those who were not vaccinated at all.

“The results demonstrate in a very convincing way that the third dose of the vaccine is extremely efficient,” said Ran Balicer, Clalit’s chief innovation officer.

Israel was the first country to widely adopt the booster and the end of Israel’s fourth wave has been credited at least in part to its booster vaccine campaign, which began among those over 65 in August and was quickly rolled out to the rest of the population. As of Friday, almost 4 million Israelis — more than 42% of the total population — have received a third dose of the COVID vaccine. Close to 67% of the total population has received at least one shot.

Israelis over 60 receive their third-dose booster of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit HMO clinic in Jerusalem, on August 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Around 650,000 people who are eligible for vaccines have not received any of the shots, while about 1.1 million Israelis eligible for the booster have yet to receive it.

Since then the US and other countries have followed suit, although some have approved the booster only for the elderly or those with preexisting conditions.

The booster shots have been widely credited with helping Israel overcome a fourth wave of the virus.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel has dropped below 10,000 for the first time in over three months, according to figures released on Thursday and Friday by the Health Ministry.

As the Delta outbreak continues to wane, active cases stand at 9,030 as of Friday night, after passing 90,000 in early September. The data also showed 656 new cases were confirmed on Thursday, down from between 5,000 and 6,000 daily almost two months ago. On Thursday, active cases stood at 9,551.

Serious cases were down to 222 as of Friday evening, including 127 on ventilators and 148 in critical condition. The death toll was up by 10 since Thursday morning for a total of 8,085.

Israel’s COVID-19 positivity rate has also steadily declined in recent weeks, reaching a low in recent days not seen since the beginning of July, according to Health Ministry statistics.

Just 651 people tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, out of close to 77,000 tests, marking a positivity rate of 0.92 percent, up slightly from Wednesday’s 0.81%. At the peak of Israel’s fourth wave in early September, the positivity rate surpassed 8%.

But ahead of the expected approval of vaccinations for ages 5-11, health officials have been warning against dropping the ball on vaccines that could stave off future waves.

On Wednesday, the government voted to cancel the restrictions on outdoor gatherings, which until now had been capped at 5,000 people.

As of Friday, open-air gatherings that require a Green Pass will be able to have an unlimited number of attendees.

Overall, all indicators point to the ending of Israel’s fourth COVID wave, which began in July and at its height saw more than 10,000 new cases reported each day.

Empty beds in the intensive care unit at the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on October 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Under Israel’s traffic light program — which ranks localities as red, orange, yellow or green depending on their number of new cases, rate of positivity, and growth rate of cases — just one town is currently listed as red: the Beit El settlement outside Jerusalem. Eleven towns are ranked as orange, and the rest of the country is either yellow or green.

A key Health Ministry advisory panel is set to meet next week to begin the approval process for vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds, after the US Food and Drug Administration approved it earlier this week. Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash said he expects a fair amount of hesitancy among parents, but that the ministry is aiming to make the approval process as transparent and clear as possible to alleviate any concerns.

13-year-old Tomer Zarfati receives his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, August 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is still awaiting a shipment of the Pfizer COVID doses for children, which are one-third of the dose given to adults. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reportedly ordered health officials to hurry along the shipment, which is slated to arrive in mid-November.

Starting Monday, Israel will be opening up its borders — somewhat — allowing in vaccinated tourists who have received a second or third dose, or recovered in the past six months. Despite the restrictions, experts say that reopening Ben-Gurion will pose a risk of new variants and a spike in cases.

According to Channel 12 news, tourists caught violating quarantine will be deported and banned from re-entry for three years. And those caught violating quarantine while COVID-positive will be deported and banned for five years.

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