The Israeli scientific results allowed health officials to open the inoculation program for pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers, while the findings also showed it was safe for those with food allergies and autoimmune diseases.
And the vaccine has turned out so well in protecting the elderly, who are particularly vulnerable, that hospital administrators here say it has eliminated but eliminated all the risk of covid-19 collapsing their critical care systems. Almost 90 percent of Israelis over the age of 50 have been fully vaccinated.
Israel’s small population of about 9 million, and its universal national health system, makes it a natural vaccine laboratory for the world. The program has inoculated more than 4.6 million people with at least the first injection, the fastest per capita rate in any country. More than 3.3 million have received both shocks.
Pfizer has guaranteed a steady supply of vaccine doses in exchange for access to anonymous data from the digitized medical record kept in almost every Israeli. These data have allowed scientists from universities, the health ministry and Pfizer to track the impact of vaccines at unprecedented speeds.
Sometimes when you go from clinical trials to the real world, you get different results, said Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist at Hebrew University and president of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. What these studies are showing us is that the vaccine provides very good protection against disease and mortality. This is great news for the world.
But the study has yet to answer some urgent questions, including how well the vaccine performs against variants on display of the virus. And experts are divided on what studies show how contagious people remain after being vaccinated, a key issue in slowing the spread of infections.
Nor has Israel yet become the example of the world that wants life to return to normal. The rate of infections in the country remains stubbornly high, driven by the advent of variant species and the failure of some communities to comply with coronavirus restrictions. Vaccination rates among ultra-Orthodox Jews and some Israeli Arab neighborhoods remain below average. (In the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, the vast majority of the population has not yet been inoculated and Israel has faced criticism at home and abroad for not providing more vaccines.)
Still, reports of optimism have provided health officials who eagerly watched how the new vaccines were introduced within a few months, instead of the years that usually have passed since vaccine developments.
Within weeks of Israel making its first vaccinations in late December, early studies were taken from the media, tweeted by their authors, and published by research institutions. Some researchers warned that the good news had not yet been reviewed by colleagues, but officials and people tired of the pandemic around the world, desperate for information, have swallowed the findings.
Her science on steroids, said Eran Segal, a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Segal posted on Twitter the results of one of the first major studies in early February, as the older Israelis who first took the shots ended the regime with two shots. His team found a 41 percent drop in new covid cases among those over 60 years old.
The publication of this study is awaited by the editors of the journals, but other scientific results and the experience of the hospital administrators have confirmed that fewer elderly people are flocking to the ward wards.
This is the most important discovery in Israel so far since it comes to protecting the health care system, the vaccine is winning, said Ronni Gamzu, former Israeli coronavirus car and head of Tel Avivs Sourasky Medical Center, one of the most large hospitals.
The number of fat patients at his institution has dropped by two-thirds in two months, Gamzu said. You may still have a high infection rate, but once you vaccinate 90 percent of people over the age of 50, you are removing the real threat of an epidemic, he said.
Another large study, conducted jointly by the Israel Ministry of Health and Pfizer and reported by Israeli news site Ynet last week, showed a 93 percent dip in serious obesity and death among vaccinated.
The study, yet to be peer-reviewed, also reported that inoculation reduced virus transmission by 90 percent, a finding hailed by many scientists as a vital pathway for herd immunity. But other experts were skeptical, noting the difficulty in detecting infections that may not show symptoms, and suggested that further case monitoring was needed.
To determine the impact of vaccines on the entire population, health experts are analyzing Israeli data by age, gender, location and health history dating back 20 years.
Analysts can create virtual control groups, so it is possible to compare hundreds of thousands of vaccinated people with unvaccinated people who share the same profiles.
We individually matched each vaccinated person with their own unvaccinated twin, if you will, said Ran Balicer, head of Clal Research Institute, Israel’s largest public four HMO. You can only do this when you have almost perfect datasets.
For example, if the vaccine was given to a 56-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jewish man from Tel Aviv with two basic conditions, Balicer said, researchers would match it to a 56-year-old unvaccinated ultra-Orthodox man from the same neighborhood and with the same conditions.
Researchers from Clal, Harvard University, and Boston Children’s Hospital compared 1.2 million Israelis divided into two groups. They found that two shots of the vaccine were 94 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease, a rate of potentially ending the pandemic if enough people were inoculated.
Immersion of other data quickly provided preliminary answers to questions that clinical trials did not ask. A study of 9,000 employees at the Sheeba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, for example, showed the Pfizer vaccine to reduce symptomatic cases by 85 percent after just one dose.
The rapid deployment of Israel vaccines is being closely monitored around the world as other nations clash with their unequal spread amid growing public frustration over health restrictions.
A take on early discoveries in Israel is clear, said Zoe McLaren, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County: Pour insane amounts of money into a vaccination program because it will end the pandemic.
That said, there are big differences between Israel and other countries, and the amount of vaccine doses is one. In many nations, including the United States, proliferation has been hampered in part by insufficient supply. Small size Israel and centralized healthcare also limit the usefulness of comparisons.
Data from Israel shows what you can do when you have an intact health system and a simplified health system as effective as the Israelis, said Peter J. Hotez, an expert on vaccines and infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine. The experience in Israel is cause for hope, he said, but with the spread of new variants of the virus, it means we need to move faster.
Even in Israel itself, vaccination seems to be fighting an increasingly troubling enemy.
Officials are easing Israel’s third national blockade and have launched a green passport system that gives vaccination special access to concerts, gyms and other once routine parts of life.
But airports, borders and some schools remain closed. And as young people have become eligible for the vaccine, anyone who may be 16 or older can now get a free kick, the pace of inoculations has slowed. Epidemiologists warn that Israel can not be done with masks and curfews.
We are taking control of the pandemic, Levine said. But taking control is not elimination. We are not there yet.
Brulliard reported from Washington.
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