Sheba Medical Center Featured in Business Insider

January 29, 2021

Nearly one-third of Israelis have been vaccinated, and very few of them have gotten sick — a sign of light at the end of the tunnel

Israel has immunized more people per capita than any other country. As of Thursday, nearly a third of Israel’s population — 2.8 million out of 9 million residents — had gotten a first shot, and more than 1.6 million people had received the full two-dose regimen.

As expected, the vaccinated group is already seeing fewer coronavirus infections. Only 63 out of 428,000 Israelis — less than 0.02% — contracted the virus one week after receiving their second doses, the Israeli Health Ministry said Monday.

Anat Ekka Zohar, a vaccine statistics analyst at Israel’s Maccabi Healthcare Services, told The Times of Israel on Thursday that the Pfizer vaccine so far has been 92% effective in Israel. The data comes from a group of 163,000 Israelis tested 10 days after their two-dose regimen.

“There’s no reason to believe that we won’t see the same thing among groups that are vaccinated in other countries, including the United States,” Dr. Emily Gurley, an associate scientist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Insider. “But of course, that decrease in risk is only for groups that have been vaccinated, so getting more people vaccinated is going to be the key for reducing risk overall in the population.”

Average daily cases in Israel have decreased 14% in the last two weeks, but the country still recorded 7,800 new cases on Thursday. Israel also recorded 75 deaths on Thursday, its highest-ever daily count.

The world is looking to Israel as the first real-world demo of how vaccinations bring a nationwide outbreak under control.

“It’s really a clinical trial where the whole country is the patient,” Dr. Eyal Zimlichman, deputy director general at Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, told Insider. “Science is looking at Israel right now to study and learn.”

Maccabi Healthcare Services recently compared the average weekly hospitalization rate among more than 50,000 vaccinated people ages 60 and up with the rate among people in the same demographic who hadn’t been vaccinated. Researchers found infections and hospitalizations for the vaccinated group were 60% lower by mid-January — two days after they had received their second shots — than in late December, when the group had only received their first shots.

Another report from Israel’s largest state health organization, Clalit, compared 200,000 vaccinated people ages 60 and older with the same number of unvaccinated individuals of the same ages. The organization found that vaccinated patients were 33% less likely to be infected 14 to 18 days after receiving their first shot.

The data is a hopeful sign, though some experts anticipated faster downward trends in Israel’s overall case counts.

“Probably in our most optimistic hopes, we thought that we’d see a bigger impact by now,” Zimlichman said. “It might take longer than the original clinical trials have shown for people to actually be immune to the virus.”

Like many countries, Israel’s vaccine rollout is being challenged by the emergence of new coronavirus variants that appear to spread more easily than the original. Zimlichman said widespread vaccinations may also be encouraging Israelis to relax their mask wearing.

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