There was a sharp increase in the risk of serious illness among the unvaccinated in January due to the outbreak of the British variant in Israel, according to new research by Clalit Health Services.“Some of the overall decline in severe patients of all ages due to immunization was observed belatedly and to a lesser extent than expected due to a corresponding sharp increase in the rates of severe morbidity among those infected among the unvaccinated in all age groups – an increase of about 70% compared to the period up to a month ago,” explained Prof. Ran Balicer, founding director of the Clalit Research Institute.In January and February, when the country was locked down for the third time and Israel was rapidly vaccinating its population, an unexplained phenomenon was observed: While health officials believed Israel should have seen an immediate and significant decrease in the number of new severe patients, the decrease was only modest. Recall, the British variant first entered Israel in late December. By early February, the Health Ministry reported that the majority of people who contracted the virus had the mutation.According to all studies, the variant is as much as 70% more contagious than the original COVID-19 strain. Initial reports from the United Kingdom have started to show that the strain is also more deadly.This new Clalit data corroborates that understanding.The study compared a group of about 60,000 people infected with coronavirus between October 1 and December 19, 2020 – before the start of the vaccination campaign and before Israel identified its first cases of the variant – to a group of 50,000 unvaccinated people who contracted coronavirus between January 17 and February 7. During this later period, the Health Ministry estimated that the variant was the cause of 80% of new infections. In the first period, 1% of people aged 30-50, 3.7% between 50-59 and 14.5% of those 60 and deteriorated within a 14-day period and experienced a serious case of the disease. In contrast, during the later period, 1.3% people ages 30-50, 5.5% between 50 and 60 and 19% of those 60 and older became serious patients within 14 days.“The results of the study show that since the beginning of 2021, the clinical characteristics of coronavirus have changed and the risk of serious illness has increased significantly among the unvaccinated population,” Balicer said, “so it can be assumed that the British strain is not only more contagious but also more dangerous.”He said the results indicate that “had it not been for the initial curb in morbidity due to the closure and the effects of the vaccination campaign, we would now see a significantly higher number of critically ill patients flooding our hospitals.”According to the most recent reports, there are still more than 500,000 people in Israel who could vaccinate but have not yet done so. Clalit said the study’s findings highlight the importance of immunization.The study is based on one of the largest databases of sick people and vaccinators.