Israeli prime minister: Pfizer isn't as strong against the Delta variant as we'd hoped

I don’t know, buddy. Ninety-four percent effective at preventing severe illness against the most infectious coronavirus variant known to man sounds like a solid result to me.

Israel is suddenly averaging upwards of 1,000 cases per day again after daily totals fell to an average of 15 six weeks ago. Scientists there were hoping Pfizer would be equal to the task of stopping the fearsome Delta variant — and it has been. They’re averaging one death a day nationally compared to 60 or so at the height of their winter wave. But infections are another matter. Delta is running roughshod over the unvaccinated and also infecting a surprising number of immunized people, which is what Naftali Bennett’s focused on today.

“We do not know exactly to what degree the vaccine helps, but it is significantly less [than against other variants],” Bennett said…

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…

Of those infected, 52 were in serious condition, two less than the day before. A week earlier, there were 41. In April, with about 5,900 active cases, a similar number as now, 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.

The health minister is already whispering about the possibility of future lockdowns. In the meantime, Israel has reinstated a national indoor mask mandate and is moving towards approving home testing kits. They’re also considering a vaccine passport with the Orwellian name “Revelry Pass” for large events like weddings that would require everyone in attendance to be vaccinated, recovered from COVID, or to have recently tested negative. Masks will be mandatory regardless.

This morning CDC chief Rochelle Walensky called COVID a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” in the U.S. Is that true in Israel? This graph is making the rounds today among anti-vaxxers:

There are as many cases among the vaccinated as among the unvaccinated lately and even more vaccinated patients in the hospital than unvaccinated. Does that mean the vaccines aren’t working?

It does not, even laying aside the fact that the sample size of hospitalizations in the graph is tiny and thus potential fluky. The vaccinated in Israel constitute 60 percent of the total population, which means there are many more people potentially who might get infected and require medical care in that cohort than among the unvaccinated group. On top of that, a huge chunk of the remaining unvaccinated population is composed of children and children rarely have cases severe enough to require hospitalization. Even so, the difference between the number of mostly young, healthy, unvaccinated people landing in the hospital each day and the number of older, less healthy vaccinated people is in the single digits. That’s a good outcome for the vaccines pitted against a strain as nasty as Delta.

There’s more:

Segal points out that even if Israel eventually reaches the same number of critically ill patients in this new post-vax wave as it did in its previous pre-vax wave, it’ll see many more mild infections along the way this time to get there, which means much more natural immunity across the remaining unvaccinated population once it’s over.

And there’s no reason to think this wave will be as bad as earlier waves at the moment. Hospitalizations are currently a fraction of what they used to be:

As for why some vaccinated people are getting sick enough to need hospital care, we need more demographic data from the Israeli government. But a study conducted there a few months ago confirmed what you’d assume, that vaccinated people with severe cases tend to be older, have other health problems, and are often immunosuppressed. Of 152 vaccinated hospitalized patients tracked, 38 had poor outcomes; “they were primarily older men with a plethora of comorbidities associated with COVID-19 severity.” Issues like diabetes, heart and lung problems, and hypertension were also more common in vaccinated patients who suffered breakthrough infections than they were in unvaccinated hospitalized patients, and 40 percent of those vaccinated patients were immunocompromised. No wonder Israel just authorized a third shot of Pfizer for people with immune deficiencies.

There may be another factor in the uptick in infections among vaccinated Israelis. Former White House COVID czar Andy Slavitt speculated a few days ago that vaccine immunity may be starting to wane in older Israelis, who were among the first groups anywhere in the world to be immunized this past winter. Immunity tends to wear off in older people more quickly than in younger ones. Combine that with the hyper-transmissibility of the Delta variant and it may be time for seniors over there to get a booster.

If you’re still bummed that Pfizer isn’t foolproof against Delta, take heart in the fact that at least we weren’t stuck with China’s crappy vaccines:

People who received BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine had ten times the amount of antibodies than those given China’s Sinovac, a Hong Kong study has shown, adding to growing data on different jabs’ effectiveness…

[Researchers] warned that “the difference in concentrations of neutralising antibodies identified in our study could translate into substantial differences in vaccine effectiveness”.

Those who received Sinovac had “similar or lower” levels of antibodies to those seen in patients who caught and successfully fought off the disease.

We already sort of knew that, as various countries gifted with Sinovac by Beijing have found out the hard way that a massive national vaccination program isn’t enough to limit a new wave of the virus. God only knows how poorly the Chinese vaccines will do now that they’re matched against Delta instead of the original SARS-CoV-2.