Israel’s vaccine treadmill

Israel’s early determination to fully vaccinate its population—when two shots were defined as fully vaccinated—led to it being heralded as a huge success story. But suddenly, the coronavirus cases are back, and with a vengeance.

By Patricia Adams and Lawrence Solomon for The Epoch Times, published on August 31, 2021

Commentary

Israel is the world’s poster boy for mass vaccination and for good reason.

It was first off the mark to obtain the vaccines necessary to fully vaccinate the country against the novel coronavirus, it was ruthlessly efficient in rolling out its vaccination programs, and now it’s first off the mark in inoculating everyone over 12 years of age with a third booster shot.

Israel’s early determination to fully vaccinate its population—when two shots were defined as fully vaccinated—led to it being heralded as a huge success story. Its daily COVID-19 cases prior to mass vaccinations, which hovered around 10,000 per day early in the year and swamping its hospitals, plummeted to single digits by May, after the population was largely vaccinated.

But suddenly, the coronavirus cases are back, and with a vengeance, once again reaching 10,000 a day and giving Israel one of the highest rates of infection in the world. More worrisome, Israel also now has one of the world’s highest rates of hospitalizationsmuch lower than in the United States but 50 percent higher than in the United Kingdom, twice as high as in Italy, five times that of Canada, and seven times that of Sweden. The rate of ICU patients is likewise distressing—again lower than in the United States but 50 percent higher than in the UK, three times as high as Italy, twice as high as in Canada, and seven times as high as in Sweden.

Israel’s hospital system has just about reached its capacity of 1,200 coronavirus patients, its previous all-time high, with some projections indicating that it would need to increase its capacity to 2,000 to properly care for the avalanche of patients coming its way. Seven of its hospitals have refused to admit new coronavirus patients, saying they don’t have the resources to manage the workload.

The answer to Israel’s growing COVID-19 emergency, say Israeli health officials, is vaccinating ever more people, ever younger ones—this week 12 year olds became enlisted for vaccinations—and at an ever-faster rate. Israel’s health authorities explain that although the COVID-19 vaccines have worked beautifully, they haven’t worked well for long. After five months, the vaccines have waned so seriously that Israeli officials believe they cannot be counted on, leading to the necessity of a third shot. For this reason, Israel is amending its Green Pass system, which provides rights to travel and allows entry to various venues, by rescinding it in the double vaccines who don’t get their third shot in time to stay safe.

Israel has thus developed a very simple, very logical strategy to protect its hospitals from deluge—get third shots into arms faster than the second shots wane. Although testing shows the percent of those infected tripled in the last month and continues to rise day by day, Israel’s health authorities are cautiously optimistic that their strategy will ultimately succeed—over 2 million Israelis, or more than 20 percent of the population, have already received their third shot, leading to a less meteoric rise in infections and the expectation that cases will soon plateau and then decline.

At the same time that Israel’s health officials express optimism, they acknowledge that the third booster might also wane, making its benefit temporary. This raises the specter of Israelis being placed on vaccine treadmills, continually needing to get re-vaccinated in order to stay ahead of the ever-increasing number of variants that the original SARS-CoV-2 spawned, and particularly vulnerable to variants that have learned to evade the vaccines, as is feared with the new South African variant.

The treadmill may not apply to all Israelis, however. In a recent study of 32,430 people, half of whom obtained immunity through vaccination and half through natural infection, after they recovered from COVID-19, the vaccinated were 13 times likelier to become infected and 27 times likelier to suffer a symptomatic case. Only nine people were hospitalized—eight of them had been vaccinated—and no one died in either group.

An Israeli report in July of 7,700 new coronavirus cases found that just 72, or less than 1 percent, arose from those with natural immunity while more than 3,000 patients, or roughly 40 percent, arose from those who had been vaccinated. The 72 represented 0.0086 percent of the 835,792 Israelis who were then known to have recovered from COVID-19.

The challenge for Israel is now how to get off the treadmill. An option that may be available for some other countries—Sweden, for example, is believed to have reached herd immunity early on through natural infection rather than vaccination—may not be available to Israel, whose rush to vaccinate may have limited its options.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .

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