Fauci: Israeli COVID-19 study misleading on vaccine effectiveness

Fauci explained that the while the S. African variant can break through the vaccines, they are still effective at preventing serious illness and death.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci attends the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci attends the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 13, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/LEAH MILLIS)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor, said Monday that an Israeli study on the effectiveness of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine against the South African variant is misleading. He added that he would be careful in drawing conclusions about the vaccine’s efficacy against the variant.
"With all due respect to my so-many Israeli friends, I think that that reprint — or preprint, as it were, was about as confusing as you possibly could be," Fauci said. "The only thing that wasn’t confusing about that was that you probably need two doses, the way we’ve been saying, absolutely if you want to get protected and get greater protection, because you saw things shifted when you were one or two weeks beyond the second dose.  So that’s the first point. 
"The second point is that I believe the misleading part about it is it made it seem like you were more likely to get the [B.1.]351 if, in fact, you were vaccinated against the mRNA," he continued. "That wasn’t the case.  If you were going to get infected with anything, you would get infected with the more difficult variant, which was 351.  That doesn’t mean you have a greater chance of getting it, because when you went out into the post-vaccination period, you were really quite well protected."
Coronavirus vaccine’s efficacy is often described based on the ability of the inoculation to prevent people from contracting the virus. However, a key factor in evaluating how effective a vaccine is is its ability to prevent serious disease, hospitalization and death.
A real-world study conducted by Clalit Health Services and Tel Aviv University in Israel and released on Saturday showed that the South African variant is more likely to break through the vaccine’s protective effect, even after two doses have been administered and more than a week has passed.
However, the study referred to the ability of the vaccine to prevent from infection, not from serious symptoms.
"What we do know, when these breakthrough infections do occur is they tend to occur with fewer symptoms, less virus — less transmissible virus," added Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control during that same White House briefing. "We’re still learning about the transmissibility of this virus in the context of these breakthrough infections.  But I would say: Use your prevention measures when you’re outside the home, and I think you’re okay when you’re in the home."
In an interview with FOX Television Stations also on Monday, Fauci explained that the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines still look to be effective at preventing serious illness and death.
"So what might happen is that when you get these new variants, some of them may not be protected against when you’re talking about mild-to-moderate disease, but at the same time, people are not going to get severely ill and wind up dying," Fauci told Fox.
Israel has inoculated over 5.3 million people using the Pfizer vaccine, most of them with both doses.
Last week however, the company halted shipments of coronavirus vaccines to Israel in outrage over the country failing to transfer payment for the last 2.5 million doses it supplied to the country.
A cabinet meeting that was supposed to authorize the new contract was canceled amid infighting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Gantz canceled the meeting after Netanyahu’s refusal to approve the permanent appointment of a justice minister. The meeting is yet to be rescheduled.
On Monday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein harshly criticized Gantz.
“Gantz is committing a crime against the health of Israeli citizens. Minister Ganz jeopardizes Israel's ability to receive vaccines that are essential for the continued functioning of the economy,” Edelstein said.
“His puzzling refusal to purchase the vaccines has persisted even after Gantz and his people received all the explanations for their questions from Health Ministry’s professionals. It turns out that this was a cynical game and a waste of valuable time for the citizens of Israel. He had no intention of allowing the vaccines to be purchased, and everything else was an excuse. The serious health and economic consequences of not purchasing the vaccines will be on his hands.”
“Likud ministers and first and foremost Edelstein have become accomplices in the crime of a criminal trying to escape his trial,” Blue and White responded in a statement. “If Edelstein really cared about the citizens of Israel he would have fought both for the appointment of a justice minister and also for the approval of a budget for additional vaccines.”
In a briefing to the press last week, Health Ministry’s Director-General Chezy Levy said that Israel has enough doses to jab about one million adults who still need to be vaccinated, but not enough to inoculate children as well.