People are given a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine inside a Covid-19 mass vaccination center at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel on Monday, January 4, 2020.
Wolf Kobi | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine is only 39% effective in Israel, where the delta variant is the dominant strain, but still offers strong protection against serious illness and hospitalization, according to a new report from the country’s health ministry.
The efficacy figure, which is based on an unspecified number of people between June 20 and July 17, is down from an earlier estimate of 64% two weeks ago and conflicts with data from the UK who found the shot to be 88% effective against disease symptoms caused by the variant.
However, the two-dose vaccine still works very well in preventing people from getting seriously ill, showing 88% effectiveness against hospitalization and 91% against serious illness, according to Israeli data released Thursday.
“We need to be aware that over time the effectiveness of these vaccines may decrease,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto.
He stressed that the injections were always very effective in preventing serious infections, helping hospital systems not to be too overwhelmed before the colder months. That being said, “we are still in the age of Covid and anything can happen,” he said.
“We have to be prepared and we have to be nimble so that people need a booster at some point,” he added. “This close monitoring that is taking place in countries like Israel, the UK and other parts of the world is going to be very helpful in driving policy if and when we need boosters.”
The delta variant, already present in more than 104 countries, worries health officials in the United States as they see more breakthrough infections, which occur in fully vaccinated people, even though they are milder.
White House chief medical officer Dr Anthony Fauci said fully vaccinated people might consider wearing masks indoors as a precaution against the rapidly spreading variant in the United States.
“This is something that we obviously don’t want to see,” Fauci said Wednesday, noting the so-called breakthrough infections. “This virus is clearly different from viruses and variants that we have had experience with before. It has an extraordinary capacity for person-to-person transmission.”
Dr Paul Offit, who advises the FDA on Covid vaccines, said that while vaccines still offer excellent protection against serious illness and death, they may not work as well against mild cases or spread disease to others.
He urged more Americans to get vaccinated, saying delta is a highly contagious virus and the injections will help people not get seriously ill. Currently, less than half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by the CDC.
“This is a rich and fertile ground for the virus to continue to reproduce and create variants that perhaps become increasingly resistant to vaccines or natural infection,” he said.
Israel’s report, which started vaccinating its population before many other countries, is likely to strengthen drugmakers’ arguments that people will eventually need booster vaccines to protect against emerging variants.
Pfizer said earlier this month it was starting to see waning immunity from its two-dose vaccine, and is now considering seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a booster dose. However, federal officials say fully vaccinated Americans do not need additional vaccines at this time.
In a statement to CNBC, Pfizer said it remains convinced that its two-dose regimen protects against the coronavirus and its variants.
Nonetheless, he said a third dose might be useful after analysis from his phase three study showed decreased efficacy against symptomatic infections after four to six months.
“Initial data from a third dose of the current vaccine shows that a booster dose given at least 6 months after the second dose induces high neutralization titers against wild type and beta, which are 5 to 10 times higher. only after two primary doses, “the company said.