An Israeli health worker from Maccabi Health Services prepares to administer a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine on February 24, 2021 in Tel Aviv.
Jack Guez | AFP | Getty Images
The coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa is able to escape some of the protection of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a new Israeli study, which has yet to be peer reviewed.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University and Clalit, Israel’s largest healthcare organization, examined nearly 400 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 after receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. They compared them to the same number of infected and unvaccinated people.
The researchers found that the prevalence of the South African variant, known as B.1.351, in patients who received two doses of the vaccine was about eight times higher than in those who were not vaccinated. The data, published online over the weekend, suggests that B.1.351 is better able to “break through” vaccine protection than the original strain, the researchers wrote in the study.
“Based on general population trends, we would have expected only one case of the South African variant, but we saw eight,” Professor Adi Stern, who led the research, told The Times of Israel. “We can say it’s less effective, but more research is needed to determine exactly how much.”
CNBC has contacted Pfizer for comment on the study.
The new data comes as public health officials worry that highly contagious variants, which studies have shown can reduce vaccine effectiveness, could hold back global progress on the pandemic.
Last month, CDC director Dr Rochelle Walensky issued a terrible warning, telling reporters she feared the United States could face “imminent catastrophe” as variants spread and Daily Covid-19 cases are starting to rebound again, threatening to send more people to the country. hospital.
“I’m going to take a break here, I’m going to lose the script, and I’m going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom,” she said on March 29. “We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential from where we are and so much to hope for, but right now I’m scared.”
Israel launched its national vaccination campaign in December, prioritizing people 60 years and older, health workers and people with co-morbidities. As of February, it was the world leader in immunization, vaccinating millions of its citizens against the virus.
In January, Pfizer and the Israeli Ministry of Health reached a collaboration agreement to monitor the real impact of its vaccine.
The researchers noted that the main caveat of the study was the same sample size. B.1.351 only accounted for about 1% of all Covid-19 cases, they said. B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in the UK, is more common.
As the variants spread, drugmakers have said they are testing whether a third dose will provide more protection.
In February, Pfizer and BioNTech said they were testing a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine to better understand the immune response against new variants of the virus.