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What we can learn about vaccine efficacy from global rollout

Jabs race leader Israel is beginning to see fall in Covid infections

As Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign begins to bear fruit, speculation is mounting about when the rest of the world will feel the benefits of the global jabs rollout.

Although Israel is still in lockdown, the Middle Eastern nation’s vaccines push is believed to have fuelled a drop in coronavirus infections. The BBC reports that “the fall appears to be most pronounced in older people and areas furthest ahead in their immunisation efforts”.

Figures released by the Israeli Ministry of Health show that just 0.07% (531) of almost 750,000 people aged over 60 who have been fully vaccinated have tested positive for Covid after getting the jab. And only 38 of those who were infected were hospitalised.

The Pfizer-BioNTech jab accounts for the majority of the five million-odd vaccinations administered in Israel to date. According to Pfizer, research has found that the efficacy of the vaccine is “consistent across age” groups, providing 94% protection in patients over 64 - just 1% lower than the overall efficacy rate among all test subjects.

Meanwhile, the UK will soon be able to assess the true efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, of which the government has ordered a total of 100 million doses. Phase 3 trials have found the Oxford jab to be 70.4% effective on average across all age ranges. 

In an article published in The Spectator in January, John Roberts of the Covid-19 Actuary Response Group predicted that if the UK’s vaccine campaign went to plan, the country would see a 15% reduction in Covid cases by mid-March. Meanwhile, hospital admission would fall by 60%, while Covid-related deaths would drop by 88%, Roberts wrote.

According to the group’s modelling, “the first indications of the jab’s success should become apparent in a few weeks”, as the vaccine kicks in to protect older people who had their first dose last month, says The Guardian.

Adam Finn, professor of infection and immunity at Bristol University, told the newspaper that the UK “should see the vaccine having an impact in our analyses of cases, then not long afterwards hospitalisations and then deaths should decrease noticeably”.

Should the UK begin to see a noticeable fall in cases among older people in the coming weeks, it will further dent claims by the German Health Ministry that the Oxford vaccine is only 6.3% effective in that demographic.

Instead, such a drop would bolster the findings of a study published in The Lancet that one dose provides an average of 76% protection against symptomatic infections from three weeks until 90 days after being administered. 

All the same, analysis of other countries’ vaccine rollouts may make Downing Street pause for thought before lifting the UK’s lockdown.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has vaccinated 36 in every 100 people in the population, according to latest tracking from Oxford University. The UAE is using the Chinese-produced Sinopharm vaccine, as well as the Pfizer-BioNTech, Sputnik V and Oxford-AstraZeneca jabs.

Yet despite the speedy vaccines rollout, the UAE has been hit by a spike in Covid-19 cases that has triggered the sacking of the head of the nation’s health authority. The Hindustan Times reports that “the surge came after the country largely removed coronavirus restrictions with the exception of face masks in public and social distancing”.

Bahrain may be one of the next countries to achieve a measurable level of vaccine success, having given jabs to 10.3 per 100 people, according to latest tracking. 

But measuring the impact of the jabs campaigns in Europe may be a longer-term proposition, as the continent lags behind other regions of the world in the vaccines race. Spain and Italy currently top the European rankings, have inoculated 3.8 and 3.7 people per 100 respectively.

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