The latest wave of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections in Israel has raised concerns, given that the nation is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. The new wave of infections is believed to be driven by the Delta variant that first emerged in India, accounting for roughly 90 percent of cases.
Around 55 percent of the country’s 9.3 million people have been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The breakthrough cases, or infections in fully vaccinated people, account for around 40 to 50 percent of new COVID-19 cases, Prof. Chezy Levy, the Director-General of the Health Ministry, said in an interview with local radio.
Prof. Levy added that the figure is concerning. “Even though the numbers are low, the fact that this is reaching vaccinated people means… that we are still checking how many vaccinated people have also been infected,” Levy said.
On June 15th, the government lifted a face mask mandate in enclosed public spaces. However, according to new guidelines issued by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, face masks could once again be mandated in enclosed spaces if an average of 100 or more new cases are diagnosed daily for a week.
The Health Ministry’s advice is for people to start wearing masks again. In his meeting with a panel of health experts, Bennett said that the new wave of infections will be treated as a fresh outbreak.
“It also infects people who have been vaccinated. You can get vaccinated and get infected… We have seen in other countries like the UK a significant increase in child hospitalizations… So we made an initial decision to treat it as a new outbreak – and our goal is to interrupt it; take a bucket of water and pour it over the fire when it is still small,” Bennett said in the meeting.
In a recent media presentation, Dr. Sharon Alray-Price, head of Public Health Services, revealed that of the 891 coronavirus cases confirmed in Israel during May, almost half had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. A Channel 12 report showed that 6,765 fully vaccinated people had contracted the coronavirus, and based on epidemiological tracing, another 3,133 had contracted the virus from the vaccinated people.
Back in January, the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) Military Intelligence Directorate published a report warning that vaccines could trigger viral mutations.
“The mass vaccination program, which is happening at the same time as an active outbreak in Israel, may lead to evolutionary stress on the virus… This situation may cause that mutations offering the virus a certain protection against immunity (whether from the vaccine or disease) will spread significantly among the population, if they appear,” the report said.
The government has decided to postpone the date tourists are allowed to enter from July 1 to August 1. Fines could be levied against individuals who travel to countries on the government’s COVID-19 blacklist, including South Africa, Russia, India, Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina. Health officials have been empowered to quarantine anyone who has been exposed to the Delta variant, regardless of if they have been vaccinated or recovered from an earlier infection.
The number of daily new confirmed COVID-19 cases per million was 16.85 as of June 27, which is 6.5 times more than the rate of 2.59 recorded a month earlier, on May 27. As of June 28, Israel has reported 840,995 cases of infections and 6,429 deaths.
US situation, WHO warning
According to a report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a total of 10,262 breakthrough cases were reported in America as of April 30. The agency stopped counting breakthrough cases afterwards, opting to only track the number of hospitalizations and deaths among vaccinated individuals. In Massachusetts, 3,791 breakthrough cases were reported in fully vaccinated individuals as of June 12.
At a recent news briefing at the World Health Organization (WHO) Geneva headquarters, assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, Dr. Mariangela Simao, stated that people cannot feel safe just because they have been jabbed, and they still need to protect themselves. “Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission,” Simao stated.
With reporting by Prakash Gogoi.