Israelis produced some 15% of world’s top COVID vaccine studies, analysis shows

Jewish state ranks 3rd in quantity of vaccine research in the New England Journal of Medicine; across journals, Israeli scientists produced 536 studies, averaging four per week

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

An elderly Israeli man receives a fourth coronavirus vaccine dose in Ashkelon on January 3, 2022. (Flash90)
An elderly Israeli man receives a fourth coronavirus vaccine dose in Ashkelon on January 3, 2022. (Flash90)

Some 15 percent of the world’s most influential studies on COVID-19 vaccines were written by Israeli scientists, according to new research that highlights the massive Israeli contributions to a field that has been crucial in dealing with the three-year-old pandemic.

It found that Israeli scholars generated some 536 peer-reviewed studies on coronavirus vaccines between January 2020 and June 2022. That is equal to an average of four studies per week throughout the period.

Early studies examined the theoretical aspects of vaccinating against the coronavirus, and once vaccines were released, as Israel became a trailblazer in administering them, there were many studies on their effectiveness and on various aspects of Israel’s immunization campaign.

In total, some 3% of total studies on the subject had at least one Israeli author,  with the figure jumping to 15% among the papers categorized as “highly cited,” meaning they are in the top percent of publications, according to the extent to which academic publications reference them.

Only about 0.2% of the world’s population is Israeli.

In two of the top journals, Israeli research was especially prevalent. Israeli articles accounted for some 11% of vaccine articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, ranking third, and 9% of pieces in Nature Medicine, ranking fourth.

Healthcare staff receives a 4th dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, at the Sheba Medical Center, on January 5, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“What we showed is just how unusual the contribution of Israeli researchers was to scientific literature on the vaccine,” Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, Ben Gurion University epidemiologist and one of the scholars behind the new peer-reviewed article on Israel’s contribution.

Prof. Nadav Davidovitch (courtesy of Ben Gurion University)

“There were many different aspects that gave Israeli research particular prominence. These included the quick and efficient vaccine campaign, and the global need for real-world timely data for decision-making, which Israel was well positioned to provide. There is also the impact of Israel’s robust public healthcare system with strong electronic medical records and good collaborations between stakeholders.

“What is more, there has been collaboration with top institutions internationally, like the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and regulatory bodies such as the FDA.”

Davidovitch credited Israel’s early and thorough vaccine rollout with propelling the country to the forefront. “The success also reflects the seizing of an opportunity to conduct and publish research, as well as a culture of sharing data between academia, health funds and the Ministry of Health,” Davidovitch commented.

He said that the success should prompt increased investment in Israeli academia and medicine, arguing: “Learning from this success story raises the need for investment into infrastructure and personnel. This will facilitate more collaborations and help meet the need for global efforts to give access to vaccines and knowledge emerging from similar scientific efforts.”

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