Analyst: 'It could prove more effective than Pfizer thought'

In week after 2nd Pfizer vaccine shot, only 20 of 128,000 Israelis get COVID

Figure represents 0.015 percent of people, indicating vaccine is hitting 95% efficiency rate predicted by clinical trials; top immunologist hails ‘exciting results’

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

A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, January 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, January 13, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

The world’s first analysis of fully vaccinated patients has indicated that the Pfizer vaccine is at least as effective as suggested by clinical trials.

Israel’s Maccabi Healthcare Services revealed Monday that only 0.015 percent of people are getting infected in the week after receiving their second shot.

Maccabi said it has 128,600 members who have seen seven days pass since full vaccine protection kicked in — and only 20 have caught the coronavirus after they were considered immunized.

Leading immunologist Cyrille Cohen told The Times of Israel that among the general population, around 0.65% are infected in a given week.

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center operated by the Tel Aviv Municipality with Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, January 19, 2021. (Miriam ALster/Flash90)

The Maccabi study lacked a control sample, but Cohen said that if general Israeli society is treated as an “imperfect” control group, his calculation indicates that the vaccine is slightly exceeding the 95% effectiveness predicted by Pfizer’s clinical trial.

“These are exciting results which are confirming the assumption that the Pfizer vaccine is highly efficient,” he said.

“These are very good results, and if it continues this way it could even be that the vaccine is more effective than Pfizer thought it would be based on clinical trials,” Anat Ekka Zohar, the Maccabi analyst behind the research, told The Times of Israel.

“While this is very early data, it is important data with broad relevance, as the whole world is looking to Israel for indications regarding how the vaccine will perform,” she said.

Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar Ilan University. (courtesy, Cyrille Cohen)

Cohen, a Bar Ilan University professor, stressed that his calculations comparing Maccabi’s results to the Pfizer trial are inexact, as various details that were known about Pfizer’s test subjects are lacking for Israeli society as a whole.

“While these are impressive results, it’s important to say that there is no direct control group or data about the demographics and geographical data of the vaccinated people,” he said.

Ekka Zohar also noted that she found that none of the 20 vaccinees was hospitalized or suffered from a fever higher than 38.5 degrees. That may be an indicator that the vaccine prevents serious illness even when people are infected, she said, but added that it is impossible to know what trajectory their symptoms would have taken without the vaccine.

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