Israel’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash has reportedly said the first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine provides less protection against COVID-19 than the US pharmaceutical firm had initially indicated it would, and cautioned that it may not protect against new strains of the virus.
During talks among Health Ministry officials ahead of Tuesday’s cabinet meeting on the possibility of extending the nationwide lockdown, Ash questioned the effectiveness of the vaccine after just one dose, Army Radio reported Tuesday afternoon.
Many people have gotten infected between the first and second Pfizer shots, Ash was quoted saying, and it appears that the protection offered by the first dose is “less effective than we had thought.” The data on the protective effect against the virus of the first dose is “lower than Pfizer presented,” he was quoted saying.
Over 2 million Israelis have had their first Pfizer shot. Over 400,000 have had the second.
According to the Health Ministry, over 12,400 have people tested positive for coronavirus after receiving vaccine shots; this figure includes 69 people who have received the second dose.
Pfizer says its vaccine, produced with BioNTech, is around 52% effective after the first dose, and increases to about 95% a number of days after the second dose.
Last week, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, announced that the vaccine curbs infections by some 50 percent 14 days after the first of the two shots is administered. She said that the data was preliminary, and based on the results of coronavirus tests among both those who have received the vaccine and those who haven’t, who are are serving as a de facto control group.
At the same time, however, other, somewhat contrary data was released by Israeli health maintenance organizations: According to figures released by Clalit, Israel’s largest health provider, the chance of a person being infected with the coronavirus dropped by 33% 14 days after they were vaccinated; separate figures recorded by the Maccabi health provider showed the vaccine caused a 60% drop in the chances for infection after taking the first shot.
During his talks with health officials on Tuesday, Ash also said that it was not certain the vaccine can protect against mutated variants of the coronavirus, according to the report.
A month into Israel’s vaccination campaign, Health Ministry officials had hoped to see a drop in daily infections and serious cases, but there is no such trend at this time. The more contagious virus variants — particularly the British strain — are being blamed for the difficulty in bringing down illness rates and easing the heavy load on hospitals, despite the lockdown and mass vaccinations.
Speaking to ministers at Tuesday’s meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet, Ash said that health officials estimate the British coronavirus variant is behind 30%-40% of current infections and will become the dominant strain in Israel within weeks, according to Hebrew media reports. The mutated strain of the virus is more infectious, though it is not considered more deadly.
Ash reportedly recommended extending the nationwide lockdown by two weeks until February 4, saying that the basic reproduction number, a key indicator of the virus’ transmission, was dropping but it would take another few days for the full effect of the lockdown to be felt.
The Health Ministry said Tuesday morning that a record 10,021 infections were confirmed the previous day, bringing the country’s total caseload since the start of the pandemic to 562,167, including 81,059 active cases. The rate of positive tests passed the 10 percent mark for the first time in over three months, with 10.2% of the nearly 100,000 tests coming back positive.