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Israel reports 94% vaccine success

Israel’s largest healthcare provider is reporting a 94% decline in symptomatic coronavirus infections among 600,000 people who have been administered both doses of the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine.

The Clalit Health Maintenance Organization (HMO), which covers more than 50% of all Israelis, said those who have been fully inoculated are also 92% less likely to develop severe illness from the disease.

The data represents the country’s most expansive study to date. It was conducted by comparing records with another group of the same size with matching medical histories – other than not yet having been vaccinated.

The result “shows unequivocally that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is extremely effective in the real world a week after the second dose, just as it was found to be in the clinical study,” declared Clalit’s Chief Innovation Officer Ran Balicer. He added that the data also shows that the vaccine is even more effective two weeks or more after the second shot.

Meanwhile the sharp drop in serious illness and hospitalization numbers experienced by those first deemed eligible to be inoculated aged 60 or older is also now being replicated by the following group of those over 55, according to a Weizmann Institute of Science study.

Hospitalizations and serious illness were still rising in younger groups who began vaccinations weeks later.

Israel has been conducting a rapid vaccine rollout and its database offers insights into vaccine effectiveness and at what point countries might attain herd immunity.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced this morning that later today, Israel is expected to exceed the administration of at least one dose to 4 million people of the nation’s overall population of 9 million. He also said that at least 2,612,000 have already received the second vaccine, and the daily number of administered vaccines continues to rise.

All citizens who have completed the vaccination process receive “Green Badge” (or Green Pass) certification, which will play a role in the gradual exit from the 3rd national lockdown aimed at preventing further spread of the pandemic.

Israel began emerging from the closure in a first phase last Sunday.

Synagogues and other houses of worship will be permitted to reopen this coming Friday, with attendance limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outside.

The Coronavirus Cabinet convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also approved the second and third phases of a Health Ministry proposal.

According to a statement TV7 received from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry, the second phase will begin at 07:00 on Sunday, 21 February 2021.

This will include the return to school by grades 5, 6, 11 and in “green” and “yellow” cities, as well as in “orange” cities with a 70% vaccination rate. Ministers will reconvene again later in the week to decide about allowing additional grades to return to the classroom.

Malls, shopping centers, street shops, museums and libraries will be allowed to re-open to the general public.

Only those with Green Passes or who have recovered from the coronavirus will be permitted to enter gyms, sporting and culture events, fairs, houses of worship (upon advance registration, according to the choice of the house of worship), hotels (without dining rooms, with an option for those under 16 with a negative test) and swimming pools.

Hotels in the designated “Green Islands” at the Dead Sea (and Eilat, should it become green) may fully open (including dining rooms).

All gatherings during the upcoming 25-26 February Purim holiday have been barred, however. It is believed that festivities of last year’s holiday was a major contributor to Israel’s first wave of infections. This year observance including celebratory meals will be limited to immediate family members.  All parties, parades and mass events are prohibited. The tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai, a site of annual pilgrimage during the holiday, will be closed from 18-21 February.

Coronavirus Zzar Nachman Ash has warned that anyone caught violating the restrictions will be subject to harsh punishment.

The third phase will begin on Sunday, 7 March 2021.

At this time, classes in grades 7-10 will be permitted in “green” and “yellow” cities, as well as in “orange” cities with a 70% vaccination rate.

All Israelis will be allowed to dine at cafes and small venues, although only those with Green Passes will be permitted to make advance reservations at regular restaurants. The vaccinated public can also resume full activity at hotels, event halls, attractions and conferences.

Gatherings will continue to be limited to 20 indoors and 50 outside; with the exception of “red” cities in which the 10:20 ratio will remain in force.

Israel has also made arrangements with neighboring tourist destinations Greece and Cyprus to ease travel restrictions for Green Pass-bearing Israelis, once the Ben Gurion International Airport resumes normal operations. Israel has been closed to nearly all international air traffic as a COVID-19 precaution since 26 January.

“We are seeing the beginning of a decline in morbidity data and this is a good sign,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu, underscoring that, “However, we must act cautiously and open the economy gradually.

“This three-stage plan – guarding the borders, gradually opening the country with the green passport and the expedited vaccination of people over 50 – will make Israel the first country in the world to exit from the coronavirus,” he said, expressing his hope that “within a month we will go back to almost full routine in the State of Israel. Let us go back to life together.”