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Nearly 200 COVID deaths reported in past week, but booster data raises hopes

More than 1.4 million Israelis have received a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, with early numbers said to show it provides a high protection rate

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Medics with Magen David Adom transfer a coronavirus patient to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, due to full capacity in other hospitals, following a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus infections in Israel, on August 15, 2021. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
Medics with Magen David Adom transfer a coronavirus patient to the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, due to full capacity in other hospitals, following a sharp increase in the number of coronavirus infections in Israel, on August 15, 2021. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Over the past week, 198 people in Israel with COVID have died, with more than 40 deaths reported over the weekend alone, according to Health Ministry statistics published Sunday evening, though data appeared to bolster hopes that a booster shot campaign could reverse infection numbers.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 6,830 people with the coronavirus have died in Israel, according to ministry numbers. Sixteen alone died on Sunday morning and early afternoon, 20 on Saturday and 21 on Friday. As new COVID cases have skyrocketed in Israel, with the ultra-contagious Delta variant taking hold, deaths have also risen in recent months. In June, just seven people with COVID died in Israel. So far in August, more than 350 people have died.

Officials say the vast majority of those continuing to suffer serious bouts with COVID are unvaccinated, though breakthrough cases among the vaccinated have also become common as immunity has seemingly waned, an issue Israel is seeking to remedy with a booster shot campaign.

More than 1.4 million Israelis have already received a third shot, according to ministry data. The campaign began August 1, with those over 60, and has since expanded to all Israelis over age 40, as well as healthcare workers, teachers, and pregnant women.

As of Sunday evening, 75 percent of Israelis aged 70-79 had received a third dose, as had 60% of those aged 60-69, 36% of those aged 50-59, and 10% of those aged 40-49 — who have only been eligible since Friday.

Israeli officials are hoping that the booster doses can halt the rise in both new cases and serious cases of COVID, in order to avoid instating drastic measures, including a national lockdown — which would be Israel’s fourth.

An Israeli man receives a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, at a Maccabi healthcare services vaccination center, on August 22, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

There were 669 people hospitalized with COVID who are in serious condition, as of Sunday evening. One week ago, that figure stood at 535, and a month ago, it was just 76.

Health officials have warned that there could be as many as 2,400 seriously ill patients by the middle of next month, if case numbers continue to rise apace.

But early data from the Health Ministry aired by Channel 12 news Sunday evening appears to show that those who have received a third vaccine dose are highly protected against the disease. According to the data, just 0.2% of the first 1.1 million Israelis who got their booster dose have been diagnosed with COVID-19 after at least seven days passed since the shot.

In absolute terms, the number of virus carriers who received their third dose is 2,790. Of them, just 187 (0.01%) were hospitalized and 88 (0.008%) developed serious symptoms. Fewer than 15 of them have died, with the report offering no exact number.

The data was not publicly released by the ministry, and could not be independently vetted.

On Friday, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s head of public health services, told Channel 12 news on Friday that she is cautiously optimistic about the effects of the booster doses.

“There is cautious optimism, and we see a curbing of serious morbidity,” Alroy-Preis said, while expressing hope that the boosters would soon be available to the entire population.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on July 14, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Eran Segal, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science who serves as a top coronavirus adviser to the government, echoed those sentiments last week.

“The figures in recent days were good,” he told Channel 12 news. “Of course, it’s early and we need to wait, but a better trend is definitely beginning [as compared to] recent weeks.”

He said that the rate at which serious cases were rising has slowed.

“The booster seems to be again raising the effectiveness of protection against infection three-fold, in comparison to people who were vaccinated with two doses,” he said. “It raises protection against serious morbidity by five- or six-fold.”

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