| 28 May 2024, Tuesday |

Israel sees drop in Pfizer vaccine protection against infections, still strong in severe illness

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine’s efficiency in avoiding infections and symptomatic disease has decreased, but it remains very efficient in preventing serious illness, according to Israel.

The reduction coincided with the development of the Delta variety and the abolition of Israel’s social separation laws.

Vaccine effectiveness in preventing infection and symptomatic sickness has dropped to 64% after June 6, according to the Health Ministry. At the same time, the vaccine was 93% effective in avoiding coronavirus hospitalizations and serious illness.

The ministry in its statement did not say what the previous level was or provide any further details. However ministry officials published a report in May that two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine provided more than 95% protection against infection, hospitalization and severe illness.

A Pfizer spokesperson declined to comment on the data from Israel, but cited other research showing that antibodies elicited by the vaccine were still able to neutralize all tested variants, including Delta, albeit at reduced strength.

About 60% of Israel’s 9.3 million population have received at least one shot of Pfizer’s vaccine in a campaign that saw daily cases drop from more than 10,000 in January to single digits last month.

This spurred Israel to drop nearly all social distancing as well as the requirement to wear masks, though the latter was partially reimposed in recent days. At the same time Delta, which has become a globally dominant variant of the coronavirus, began to spread.

Daily cases have increasingly increased since then, reaching 343 on Sunday. The number of very unwell people increased from 21 to 35.

The country was unlikely to witness the high numbers of hospitalizations observed earlier in the year, according to data scientist Eran Segal of Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, because there were far fewer critically ill.

He said it was fine to “return to normal life without restrictions” while boosting up immunization outreach and ensuring that Israelis returning home from abroad were tested.