‘Pfizer COVID vaccine significantly less effective against Delta variant’

‘Pfizer COVID vaccine significantly less effective against Delta variant’

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The effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against the Delta variant is “weaker” than health officials hoped, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Friday, as 858 people tested positive for coronavirus and more countries were added to the list of places having high infection rates.

“We do not know exactly to what degree the vaccine helps, but it is significantly less,” Bennett said.

The prime minister held a meeting of top health officials and ministers to discuss the next steps for managing the virus in light of the numbers in Israel and what Bennett described as “the Delta mutation leaping forward around the world, including in vaccinated countries such as Britain, Israel and the US.”

The highest number of coronavirus cases since March was diagnosed on Thursday, with 1.52% of tests returning positive, the Health Ministry said in a Friday announcement. 

While the spike in daily cases continues, the increase in serious morbidity has remained limited.

Of those infected, 49 were in serious condition, five fewer than the day before. One week earlier, on July 10, there were 39. In April, with about 5,900 active cases, similar to the current number, more than 340 patients were in serious condition.

The likely explanation is that among the current virus carriers, some 2,000 are schoolchildren, and half of them were fully vaccinated. Both groups are very unlikely to develop severe forms of the disease, even though it occasionally happens. At the moment, around 60% of the patients in serious conditions were vaccinated.”Percent of cases that turn critically ill is now 1.6%, compared to 4% at a similar stage in the 3rd wave when there were no vaccines,” Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science who advises the coronavirus cabinet, tweeted on Friday. He said that “In case of continued increase in cases, many more cases will be needed than in the 3rd wave to reach similarly high numbers of critically ill patients in the hospitals. This will contribute significantly to population-level immunity.”

The ministers met for several hours, only completing their meeting shortly before Shabbat, and agreed on several principles, the first of which is to roll out rapid home testing as early as next week. 

For Bennett, the emphasis is on rapid testing, which he wants to see accessible to everyone to enable life to go on during the pandemic. 

FURTHERMORE, the ministers agreed to prepare for enforcing the “Happy Badge” that only gives access to weddings and similar events with more than 100 guests to those who are vaccinated, recovered or holders of a recent negative coronavirus test.

The system is only relevant for indoor gatherings where food and drinks are served and people both sit and stand. There will be no cap on participants, and people will be required to wear masks.

A joint team run by the Health and Transportation ministries will examine the policies at Ben-Gurion Airport. And the relevant authorities will begin preparations for the High Holidays and the opening of the school year in the shadow of coronavirus. 

Finally, the ministers also agreed that all of the staff hired by the hospitals to help during the coronavirus crisis would remain employed until the passing of a state budget. This includes some 600 doctors and 1,600 nurses.

Last week, thousands of administrative and other support staff from 30 medical centers across the country were on strike over some 200 positions that were likewise hired during the pandemic. 

The strike ended on Thursday and all of the employees agreed to go back to work after a deal was brokered between Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and the Histadrut Labor Union, which similarly said that until the state budget is formulated, all employees that were hired during the COVID-19 pandemic would remain in their jobs.

The doctors, nurses and support staff who were hired to help the hospitals during the crisis were supposed to lose their jobs at the end of the month.

In addition, it was agreed on Thursday that Histadrut chairman Arnon Bar-David would discuss a wage increase for these workers with the Finance Ministry.

THE MEETING came shortly after the Health Ministry announced its intention to add Spain and Kyrgyzstan to the list of banned countries, and the UK, Cyprus, Turkey, Georgia, Uganda, Myanmar, Fiji, Panama, Cambodia, Kenya and Liberia to the list of red countries – meaning that if Israelis travel to these places, they will have to be isolated on return for seven to 14 days. 

Other countries for which there is already a severe travel warning include the United Arab Emirates, Seychelles, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Paraguay, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Tunisia.

The list of banned countries includes Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, Russia and South Africa. Israelis are prohibited from visiting these countries unless they obtain permission from the devoted governmental special committee. 

The government is expected to approve the new list of countries next week. 

“The government will continue to monitor all developments and convene frequently to discuss them and plan the next steps in advance so that the public will understand where we are going and what we are doing, without the mishaps, without panic and, mainly – with advance planning – anticipate the future,” Bennett concluded. 

Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.



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