JERUSALEM - In the first large-scale, controlled data outside clinical trials, the two-dose Pfizer coronavirus vaccine is showing 92 percent effectiveness, according to Israeli health officials. It’s good news for Pfizer, which says the vaccine also appears to work against the British mutation of COVID-19.
The Maccabi Health Fund studied 163,000 Israelis who had received two doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. Only 31 of them caught COVID-19 after they were fully vaccinated. In an equivalent sample of unvaccinated Israelis, almost 6,500 developed the disease.
The study shows the Pfizer vaccine had 92 percent effectiveness, which was close to the 95 percent Pfizer saw in clinical trials. Israeli infectious-disease experts said the study is good news and that the slight difference between the clinical trials and this current study is within the standard deviation.
Israel has become a real-time laboratory for the Pfizer vaccine, which is being widely distributed in the country through the public health funds. Israel bought the vaccine early, paying double the market price, according to media reports, and agreed to share all of its data with Pfizer. All Israelis belong to one of four health funds and all medical records are digitized.
So far, almost 3 million Israelis out of a total population of 9.3 million have received the first dose of the vaccine, and almost 1.5 million have received the second dose.
Rising death rate
Despite the good news, the country is seeing a rising death rate and more seriously ill patients. Israel has been under a third lockdown for three weeks, which is due to be lifted next week. All schools and businesses, except for essential businesses like supermarkets and pharmacies, are closed, and Israelis are allowed to travel only a half-mile from their homes.
Some in the ultra-Orthodox community have ignored those restrictions, and there have been violent demonstrations when police have come to enforce them.
Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, said lifting the lockdown would be a mistake.
He said the lockdown had stopped the increase in new cases, but the British mutation, which is being found in about a third of all new cases, is more infectious and more serious. He said that opening schools and workplaces now would be a big mistake and would result in more deaths.
Of the total 4,600 deaths in Israel, more than 1,000 were in the month of January alone. Professor Nachman Ash, who is leading Israel’s coronavirus response, said he was most worried about the number of seriously ill patients.
He said that Israel currently has 1,200 seriously ill patients and that some hospitals are on the verge of collapse. He said he expected the numbers of seriously ill patients to begin to drop in the next week.
Israel closed its airport this week to air traffic, hoping to stop new cases from being brought into the country. Israeli officials said they hoped to extend both the lockdown and the airport closure for another week.