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Pfizer vaccine 96.7% effective at preventing COVID deaths, Israeli data shows

Shots also 97.5% effective against serious illness, and 95.3% effective in preventing infection, according to study published in prestigious medical journal

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

In this Jan. 7, 2021, photo, an Israeli military paramedic prepares a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be administered at a medical center in Ashdod, southern Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
In this Jan. 7, 2021, photo, an Israeli military paramedic prepares a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to be administered at a medical center in Ashdod, southern Israel. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Vaccines are proving 96.7 percent effective at protecting Israelis against COVID-related death, and 97.5% effective against serious illness, new research has shown.

The study, full of statistics on the vaccine that will generate hope worldwide, was published Wednesday in the leading peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet.

“In Israel we can see the reality of what vaccines do all around us, but this research is important in quantifying it and documenting it for others around the world to see, and understand the full benefits of vaccines,” Bar Ilan University epidemiologist Prof. Michael Edelstein told The Times of Israel.

“This puts our new reality in the form of academic research for all to see.”

A student receives the COVID-19 vaccination at the Amal high school in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, March 17, 2021 (Flash90)

The analysis was conducted by Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at Israel’s Health Ministry, with international collaborators. It found that full vaccination, involving two Pfizer doses, is 95.3% effective in preventing infection. Pfizer’s clinical trials suggested this rate, but doctors were unsure whether it would be so closely replicated in the real world.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis during a briefing in January 2021. (video screenshot)

It is 97% effective in preventing symptomatic illness and 91.5% in protecting against asymptomatic infection.

The researchers found that vaccines are 97.2% effective against COVID-19-related hospitalization. They stressed that vaccine benefits are felt across all ages, writing: “In all age groups, as vaccine coverage increased, the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 outcomes declined.”

Using the full name for Pfizer’s vaccine, they stated: “Two doses of BNT162b2 are highly effective across all age groups in preventing symptomatic and asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19-related hospitalizations, severe disease and death, including those caused by the [British] variant.

Tel Aviv University professor Jonathan Gershoni (courtesy)

“There were marked and sustained declines in SARS-CoV-2 incidence corresponding to increasing vaccine coverage. These findings suggest that COVID-19 vaccination can help to control the pandemic.”

Prof. Jonathan Gershoni, a vaccines expert from Tel Aviv University who was not involved in the study, told The Times of Israel: “Once again, the scientific community has critically evaluated the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine in Israel, and have confirmed its exceptional performance.

“Most important of all the statistics is that it doesn’t only reduce the infection rate but, over several months, also significantly decreases the death rate.”

Gershoni said the research comes at an important moment, as the US Food and Drug Administration is expected to declare the Pfizer vaccine safe and effective for 12- to 15-year-olds — a signal to Israel and other countries to start immunizing this age group.

“Parents should realize from this that it’s an important means to protect your children,” he said.

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