Israel faces new coronavirus outbreak even though its citizens already got vaccines
Israel faces the threat of a looming Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak once again. The news starkly contrasts with earlier reports of the country keeping COVID-19 under control with its vaccination program using the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine. But Israeli health experts say such brief surges are “completely expected” and there is no need to raise the alarm just yet.
One such outbreak occurred in the city of Beit She’an in northern Israel. A report by the Jewish News Syndicate said the Israeli Ministry of Health ordered attendees of a June 17 indoor concert there to get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine themselves. The ministry’s June 20 order followed one of the audience members testing positive for COVID-19.
Outbreaks also occurred in schools at the northern town of Binyamina-Giv’at Ada and the central city of Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut. In response, Ministry of Health Director-General Hezi Levi signed a mask mandate for schools in the two areas – in both open and closed spaces. Levi signed the order on June 20.
While the outbreaks are still under investigation, speculation that the Delta strain was responsible for the new cases has emerged. According to Israel’s Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, the new variant is 60 percent more contagious than the British B117 strain. It also causes more than twice the amount of hospitalizations than the British variant, the center added in its June 20 report.
Cyrille Cohen of Bar-Ilan University said that as many as one-third of people infected during the recent COVID-19 outbreaks were inoculated. Currently, around 35 percent of eligible Israelis are not vaccinated against the disease. Leshem said he hopes the outbreaks will convince them to get inoculated.
Israeli authorities claim the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine offers protection against the Delta variant. But this may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 by making more people susceptible to contracting different variants.
A study done by researchers from Tel Aviv University and Israeli healthcare provider Clalit Health Services examined the two-dose vaccine and found that it increased the risk of people catching Wuhan coronavirus variants of concern.
They found that the South African B1351 variant was eight times more prevalent in people who completed the two-dose vaccination schedule. The researchers also found that the British B117 variant was more prevalent in those who received one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Lead researcher Dr. Adi Stern said: “We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. Based on patterns in the general population, we would have expected just one case of the [B1351] variant, but we saw eight.”