The Pfizer coronavirus vaccine has proven to be about 99% effective in preventing hospitalization, serious disease and death for those who are past two weeks from the second dose, new data released by the Health Ministry on Saturday night showed.The protocol to administer the Pfizer vaccine involves two injections three weeks apart.
Israel started to administer the vaccine on December 19. The report included the figures collected by the ministry up to February 13.
The news came just as Israel was preparing to send 1.1 million children back to their classrooms – 500,000 more than attended last week – and open up gyms, hotel rooms, malls and street shops.
The Health Ministry measured the level of effectiveness of the vaccine both seven days after the second shot – when the immunity is considered to kick in – and another seven days later. The ministry compared the morbidity and mortality rates between those who vaccinated and those who did not.
“Thanks to the strong health care system of the State of Israel, which has enabled us to reach an unparalleled extensive vaccination rate in a short period of time, as well as to our ability to carry out comprehensive epidemiological tracking, we are the first country in the world to demonstrate the effect of the corona vaccine in the real clinical world,” Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy said.
According to the document, a week after the second dose, the jab was 91.8% effective in preventing individuals from contracting the virus, 96.9% from developing symptoms such as fever and respiratory difficulties, and 95.6%, 96.4% and 94.5% against hospitalization, serious illness and death respectively.
In addition, two weeks after the second shot, the efficacy improved even further: 95.8% against contracting the virus, 98% against developing symptoms such as fever and respiratory difficulties, and about 99% against hospitalization, serious illness and death – 98.9%, 99.2% and 98.9%.
The data clearly shows a significant decrease in cases among the population over 60 as a higher rate of them became fully vaccinated.
“The vaccine significantly reduces morbidity and mortality and its effect can be seen in the morbidity data in the country,” Levy said. “Our goal is to continue to vaccinate the entire population over 16, and when the time comes also those under the age of 16, in order to achieve the extensive coverage that will allow us to return to the normal life we all long for.”
Israel’s infection rate has been decreasing for several days. Some 3,011 cases were recorded on Thursday and on Friday the number of serious patients dropped for the first time under 900 in several weeks – to 858.
On Saturday night, the Health Ministry’s website was down for several hours so no updated data was provided.
But while the data looks good and vaccinated citizens return to their treadmills, about half of Israeli children will remain at home on Sunday.
Some 1.2 million students, including those in grades 7-10 and those of all ages who go to school in cities labeled as red or orange according to the traffic light program by the Health Ministry, will continue to learn remotely, while their peers in grades 5-6 and 11-12 in green, yellow and light orange cities will return to classrooms for the first time in weeks. Daycares and grades 1-4 already resumed in person in those cities on January 11.
“I would like to clarify why we are opening gyms before all the education systems,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said while visiting a gym in Petach Tikva together with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. “It’s important to understand that there is a pandemic, there is a British mutation that strikes young people, we still do not know its effect. Although many children will return to school, we are doing it gradually.”
As noted, Israelis will also be able to return to stores, malls, markets, museums and libraries which will start operating again under the Health Ministry’s Purple Ribbon standards, which limits participation and continues to require masks and social distancing.
At the same time, gyms, swimming pools, hotels, cultural and sports events will welcome only green passport’s holders, individuals who are either at least a week after the second coronavirus vaccine or who have recovered from the disease.
A green passport can be downloaded through the Health Ministry’s special traffic-light website, accessed through the Apple or Google Play stores or can be emailed or mailed to its owner by calling *5400.The Health Ministry said that due to high demand there could be some technical difficulties accessing these passports. In the interim, a vaccination certificate provided by one's health fund can be used instead.
Last week, Edelstein warned last week that people who try to forge a green passport will face criminal charges and may even be jailed.
“Anyone who thinks it is a child’s game and will print a certificate even though he has not been vaccinated will eventually be caught and this activity could also end with a jail term,” Edelstein said.
Over the weekend, the coronavirus cabinet also approved designating the Dead Sea resort area as a “green island” again. The move allows the hotels to re-open in full for both people who are vaccinated and those who can present a negative coronavirus test result from within the last 24 hours. The hotels will also accept people who can show they have had coronavirus and recovered.
The green island designation is specific to hotels in the Ein Bokek and Hamei Zohar areas. Reservations are required in advance.
In contrast, late Thursday night, the government voted to extend the closure on Israel’s airport for another two weeks, until March 6. Up to 2,000 people can enter the country each day with special permission from the government’s exemption committee.
The next stage of Israel’s exit strategy is supposed to begin in two weeks, so long as the country’s infection rate continues to decline and more people get vaccinated.
“I'm glad we're coming back to life, gradually,” Edelstein said at the gym. “Caution is demanded and it requires us to resume activities in several steps.”