Top expert optimistic as data shows cases in over-60s slowing after booster

‘I believe within two weeks we will see morbidity halted,’ says Sheba’s Gili Regev-Yochay; unvaccinated individuals are 8 times more likely to becomes seriously ill

A couple receive their third dose COVID-19 vaccine at the Shaarei Tsedek hospital, on August 17, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A couple receive their third dose COVID-19 vaccine at the Shaarei Tsedek hospital, on August 17, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

With COVID-19 cases in Israel continuing to rise, new infections among those over the age of 60 have begun to taper off, apparently as a result of the vaccine booster.

After rising to over 400 new daily infections among those above 60 over the past week, that number began to slow down on Monday and Tuesday and now appears to be at the start of a decline, just over two weeks since Israel began administering a third coronavirus vaccine to that age group, Channel 12 news reported, citing Health Ministry data.

Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at the Sheba Medical Center told Channel 12 she is optimistic with the current data. “I am very encouraged by the results of the tests, the data of the third vaccine, and the public’s response to the vaccine. I believe it will do the job,” she told the network.

“I believe that within two weeks we will see morbidity halted,” she added.

According to the Health Ministry, the rate of serious cases is far higher among unvaccinated Israelis over the age of 60, with 174 severe cases per 100,000. Among the fully vaccinated, the figure is 21.3 per 100,000, and among the partially vaccinated, 54 per 100,000.

The government launched its latest vaccination campaign over two weeks ago, urging Israelis over 60 (since lowered to over 50) to get their third dose of the vaccine — known as a “booster” shot — which officials hope will help protect Israel’s most vulnerable from the new, highly contagious Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Prof. Gili Regev-Yochai, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at Sheba Medical Center. (YouTube screenshot)

The latest vaccination figure for the third dose — 1,088,065 — marks slightly over half the eligible population of 1.9 million Israelis who are over 50 and got their first two vaccine shots over five months ago.

Still, the number of hospitalized virus patients continued to rise on Tuesday, with 579 of them listed in serious condition.

Of the seriously ill, 97 were on ventilators. In total, there were 946 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

On Monday, 8,716 new infections were recorded, the highest figure in the current fourth wave of infections, with an additional 4,669 cases identified by Tuesday afternoon, taking the number of active cases in the country to 56,634.

The ministry said that 152,671 people were tested on Sunday, with the positivity rate showing a further rise to 6.2 percent — the highest level since February.

There were five fatalities since Tuesday morning, raising the death toll to 6,699.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday refused to commit to opening schools nationwide on September 1 as scheduled, as virus cases continued to rise.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on August 8, 2021. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool)

“We will make that decision in the coming week, according to the situation with the pandemic,” Bennett told Channel 13 news when asked about the slated start of school studies.

On Monday, the government approved a plan for high-contagion areas that will see classes with low levels of vaccinated students moved to online remote learning.

Under the rules of the new plan, only classrooms in which more than 70% of students are either vaccinated, recovered, or pass a positive serological test for antibodies will be allowed to meet in person.

Classrooms that fall below that level will be required to switch to home learning.

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz approved the call-up of some 6,000 reserve troops to assist with conducting the serological tests for school kids, with the aim of testing over one million by the start of the school year.

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