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Israel, once the model for beating COVID-19, faces new surge of infections

The vast majority of Israel’s older population had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of February, and by now about 78% of the population age 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

August 20, 2021 / 10:31 AM IST

Last spring, Israel’s remarkably swift vaccination campaign was seen as a global model. Coronavirus infections plummeted, an electronic pass allowed the vaccinated to attend indoor concerts and sporting events, and distancing rules and mask mandates were eventually scrapped.

Israel offered the world a hopeful glimpse of the way out of the pandemic.

No longer.

A fourth wave of infections is rapidly approaching the levels of Israel’s worst days of the pandemic last winter. The daily rate of confirmed new virus cases has more than doubled in the past two weeks, making Israel a rising hot spot on the international charts.

Restrictions on gatherings and commercial and entertainment venues were reinstated this week, and the government is considering a new lockdown.


COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Some experts fear that Israel’s high rate of infections among early vaccine recipients may indicate a waning of the vaccine’s protections over time, a finding that contributed to a U.S. decision Wednesday to begin offering booster shots to Americans widely starting next month.

The vaccine may be less effective at preventing infection with the highly contagious delta variant, now the primary version of the virus in Israel. And the first cohort to be vaccinated was an older group whose immune systems may have been weaker to begin with.

The vast majority of Israel’s older population had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of February, and by now about 78% of the population age 12 and older are fully vaccinated.

Seeing infection levels dropping in the spring and determined to reboot the economy, Israel retired its electronic pass system, eased travel bans and lifted all other restrictions. The last to go was the indoor mask mandate June 15.

However, as summer approached, infections began to spiral. School was out, families crowded local hotels, and up to 40,000 people a day were flying abroad. After many days of zero COVID-19 deaths in June, at least 230 Israelis have died this month.

Unlike previous epicenters of infection in Israel’s crowded, less-vaccinated ultra-Orthodox communities, this scourge primarily took hold in well-vaccinated, middle-class suburbs.

Israel is now pinning its hopes on booster shots. Beginning with those 60 and older and quickly expanding the drive to those 50 and older, more than 1 million citizens have already received a third dose this month.

By Isabel Kershner

c.2021 The New York Times Company
New York Times
first published: Aug 20, 2021 10:29 am

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