In Brief

‘Vaccination blunts, but does not defeat’: exploring Israel’s fourth Covid wave

Two months ago, face masks were consigned to bins. Now the country is in a ‘unique moment of epidemiological doubt’

Two months ago, Israel was basking in the success of one of the world’s fastest vaccine roll-outs. Masks were consigned to bins, and Covid restrictions looked like a thing of the past. No longer, said Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz (Tel Aviv). Today, the country is in a “unique moment of epidemiological doubt”.

Fuelled by the spread of the Delta variant, new Covid cases have reached their highest levels in six months. And, despite 78% of adults having been double jabbed (about the same as in the UK), hospitalisations, serious illnesses and deaths have been “rising for the past seven weeks” – and are forecast to continue doing so for weeks to come.

Worryingly, 90% of new infections are in largely vaccinated over-50s, and nearly 60% of “gravely ill” patients are fully jabbed, said Meredith Wadman in Science (Washington). The situation is now being scrutinised around the world. And the lesson is clear: “Vaccination blunts, but does not defeat” the Delta variant.

So what’s behind this “stunning reversal” in Israel’s fortunes, asked Isabel Kershner in The New York Times. Some experts reckon high infection rates among early recipients point to “a waning of the vaccine’s protections” six to eight months after second jabs. The first cohort to be jabbed were also mainly older, with weaker immune systems to begin with. And Israel relied heavily on Pfizer’s mRNA vaccine, with a three-week gap between jabs; it remains to be seen whether immunity from other vaccines, such as Moderna’s or AstraZeneca’s, proves longer lasting.

Covid’s resurgence has led to tough questions for Naftali Bennett, said Maayan JaffeHoffman in The Jerusalem Post. Israel’s new PM was once so confident in his abilities that he wrote a book called How to Beat Covid-19. Yet two months after coming to power, he has been accused of being too slow to react to rising cases; restrictions on large gatherings, for instance, were only reinstated last week.

Israel is trying to quell its fourth wave by offering third jabs to over 40s, said Nature (London). More than a million out of 9.3 million Israelis have had a booster; other countries – including the UK, US and Germany – also plan to give third doses to at-risk groups. They shouldn’t. While 58% of people in the world’s high-income countries have had at least one dose, that figure is just 1.3% in poor nations. The priority for rich nations shouldn’t be giving booster jabs; it should be “getting the world vaccinated”. Until that happens, we’re all at risk from dangerous new variants that could knock the Covid recovery off course. 

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