Israeli Covid tsar says first Pfizer jab not as effective as hoped and blames spike in cases on British strain

James RothwellTue, January 19, 2021, 10:47 AM

A medic collects a swab sample from a traveller at a booth at the COVID-19 coronavirus rapid testing centre in Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport  - AFP
A medic collects a swab sample from a traveller at a booth at the COVID-19 coronavirus rapid testing centre in Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport – AFP

Israel’s coronavirus tsar has warned that the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine offers less protection than expected, as he blamed the country’s surge in Covid cases partly on the new British variant.

Nachman Ash said many Israelis had caught Covid in between their first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, suggesting that the first jab is “less effective than we thought,” according to Army Radio.

His remarks underline the importance of receiving a second vaccine dose, which according to recent studies is more than 90 per cent effective in protecting against coronavirus.– ADVERTISEMENT –

Israel has already given the first of two jabs to nearly 30 per cent of the population and on Tuesday announced it would extend eligibility to those aged 40 and over.

But Mr Ash is said to have warned at a cabinet meeting that a new strain of Covid originating in Britain was hampering efforts to tackle the pandemic, as it was responsible for nearly 40 per cent of new cases.

It comes after two studies by Israeli healthcare providers found that the first dose of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by between 30 and 60 per cent.

And according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, a survey by the health ministry found that around six per cent of 189,000 citizens who had received the first jab tested positive for Covid within two weeks.

It also stated that 69 people from the sample had tested positive for coronavirus after receiving their second dose of the vaccine.

Another study of a hundred people in Israel found that 98 per cent were protected from the disease once the second dose was administered. That research, carried out by the Sheba Medical Center, also said that a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine significantly refused the risk of spreading the virus to others.

Global vaccine rollout - top 10
Global vaccine rollout – top 10

In Britain, there is a gap of up to 12 weeks between receiving the first and second dose, whereas the WHO recommends the second dose of Pfizer is administered within 21-28 days.

Israeli health experts have stressed that it is too early to draw any concrete conclusions from the data.

This week, Israel published a partially redacted copy of a deal with Pfizer which has secured a steady supply of vaccines in return for the country sharing its medical data.

Under the terms of that deal, Israel is expected to provide weekly updates on the number of vaccinations carried out with a breakdown by age and gender, as well as some demographic details.

It is hoped that the data will help other countries plan their own inoculation strategies and provide some of the first conclusions on the effectiveness of the vaccines.

Though the deal with Pfizer says patients cannot be identified by the data, there are some concerns in Israel that it could breach privacy rules.

Israel hopes to have vaccinated most of the population by the end of March, though officials say they are in a race against the country’s third wave of coronavirus. The country is currently in lockdown and on Monday reported a record daily infection rate of 10,000 cases, the highest rate in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

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