Experts disagree on one-dose vaccine, report spotlights British mutation

While the outgoing deputy director-general of the Health Ministry suggested limiting coronavirus vaccines to one dose per person, other experts were not sold on the idea.

A health care worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
A health care worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
While the outgoing deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto, who stepping down at the end of the month, has suggested limiting coronavirus vaccines to one dose per person, as opposed to the two that the pharmaceutical companies deem necessary for the vaccine to work most effectively, other experts are not sold on the idea.
Grotto’s suggestion came after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned last week that there could be a temporary shortage of the Pfizer vaccine in a few weeks, due to the high demand and the quick rollout of the vaccination campaign.
While Edelstein insisted that there would not be a problem giving the second dose to those who already received the first, Grotto said it was worth examining a plan to vaccinate more people with a single dose. He cited a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that said there could be 80% immunity after a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine, although the findings also showed that it was more likely that the first dose would be only 52% effective.
Grotto said the idea merited further study, but Dr. Adi Stern, an evolutionary virologist at Tel Aviv University, said: “The Pfizer vaccine was tested in two doses, the data we have is from the two-dose regimen. If we were to try one dose, it would turn into a large-scale experiment in Israel. I don’t want to try that. I don’t think it’s worth it.”
Her sentiments were echoed by Dr. Ran Nir-Paz, an MD and an associate professor specializing in infectious diseases at the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who said, “We know what works. To give it according to protocol is the smartest way to do it.” He said there was no genuine danger of a vaccine shortage in Israel.
A report released by the National Corona Information and Knowledge Center on Sunday said that the highly infectious British mutation has already spread to dozens of Israelis, especially in the ultra-Orthodox sector, and in the education system, and that it may be linked to the recent high morbidity of the virus in Israel.
The report noted that the health system in the UK is on the verge of collapse due to the spread of the mutation there and recommended tightening restrictions in Israel to prevent the further spread of the mutation here.
But Stern did not see any reason for panic. “It’s been found in the community here and it’s more prevalent than we thought it was, but I don’t think it should be a game changer in terms of policy. Even in the UK, it’s too early to tell what its effect will be.”
Nir-Paz stressed that the effect of the mutation might already be making itself felt in Israel. “We are not far from British numbers,” he said, where there are over 50,000 new coronavirus cases per day, comparable to the current Israeli morbidity rate.
“The hospitals in Jerusalem are already full,” he noted, adding that it was clear that the vaccine could handle the mutation and that social distancing and mask wearing will help contain the spread from the mutation. The data was not absolutely clear as to whether the mutation caused a dramatically higher morbidity rate in children, but he said that children’s wards in British hospitals were not full.
On Sunday night, the Health Ministry announced that according to additional sequencing results performed to look for the British mutation of the coronavirus, out of 96 samples, seven positive samples were obtained with the mutation, from  Givat Ze'ev, Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. As far as the Ministry could ascertain, those infected had not traveled abroad. 
There have been 30 cases of the British mutation found in Israel so far and six were traced to people who had returned from abroad. 
Today, there are another 300 samples from all over the country that are in the process of being sequenced, as part of the national program for genetic sequencing established by the Health Ministry. The Health Ministry will continue to update the findings as they become available. 
Reshet 13 reported Sunday night that a preschool teacher in the Efrat area infected eight of the children she cares for with the British mutation. Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi announced he would not open the school system for fear of infecting more pupils and staff members.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this article.