Health

Pfizer vaccine efficacy drops in Israel as delta variant spreads

Israel has downgraded the efficacy of Pfizer‘s Covid vaccine amid the rapid spread of the Indian variant.

Health chiefs there now claim the jab blocks 64 per cent of infections, compared to 94 per cent in May before the mutant strain took hold. 

Ministers reportedly described the data ‘disturbing’.

But the same statistics showed the jab still protects against serious illness, slashing the risk of being hospitalised by 93 per cent. 

For comparison, Israeli news website Ynet reported the efficacy figure throughout May was slightly above the 98 per cent mark.

The figures are in line with real-world data from Britain’s vaccine roll-out, which has saved tens of thousands of lives in the face of the rapidly-spreading Indian variant.   

Health chiefs there now claim the jab blocks 64 per cent of infections, compared to 94 per cent in May before the mutant strain took hold. Ministers reportedly described the data ‘disturbing’. But the same statistics showed the jab still protects against serious illness, slashing the risk of being hospitalised by 93 per cent

Pfizer's Covid vaccine was up to a third less effective against the Indian 'Delta' variant, according to data from Israel (stock)

Pfizer’s Covid vaccine was up to a third less effective against the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, according to data from Israel (stock)

Vaccine gap cut from 12 weeks to eight for EVERY adult as No10 vows to offer two jabs to all over-18s by mid-September

Britons under the age of 40 will be offered their second Covid jab after eight weeks instead of 12.

Boris Johnson claimed the new aim was for all adults to be fully inoculated by mid-September, when coronavirus rates are expected to rise and the NHS grapples with seasonal winter pressures.

Last month, the gap was shortened for older people in a bid to protect millions of the most vulnerable amid the rise of the highly-infectious Indian variant.

The Prime Minister announced the change to the dosing strategy at tonight’s press conference, where he set out plans for a post-lockdown England from July 19.

Ministers are also considering whether to roll out third vaccines for all over-50s, NHS staff, carers and patients with underlying health conditions this autumn.

Oxford University researchers last week showed antibody levels could be restored to their peak with the use of a ‘booster’ vaccine months after the second.

But whether or not this would improve on the already near-100 per cent protection against death that two doses provide is still unknown.

No10 is now wrestling with the moral dilemma of whether to run the booster vaccine programme or send the doses to developing countries where supplies are scarce.

Vaccinating children is another contentious strategy being considered by the Government, with some of its advisers warning that Covid itself is less dangerous to youngsters than a jab.

Public Health England says two doses of Pfizer jab blocks up to 90 per cent of infections.

However, one dose is only thought to be around 35 per cent effective.

But the jab — co-developed by German firm BioNTech — is much more successful at stopping the infected from becoming very ill. 

PHE analysis also suggests two doses cut the risk of hospitalisation by at least 90 per cent.

Asked about the Israeli vaccine efficacy figures, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson dismissed fears that the jabs don’t work as well.

He said: ‘We know based on the latest published evidence… that two doses of Pfizer is highly effective against the Delta Variant.’

An efficacy figure of 90 per cent does not mean 10 per cent of the public will need medical care if they get infected.

Instead, it means inoculated people have a 90 per cent lower risk of being admitted to hospital compared to the unvaccinated.  

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is also slightly less effective against the Indian variant, which is now dominant in most of England’s 300-plus councils. 

But the British-made jab — which works slightly different to Pfizer’s — was not used in Israel’s world-beating inoculation drive.

Israel eased its remaining restrictions in early June, relaxing requirements to wear face masks inside and customer caps on cafes, bars and restaurants.

But indoor coverings were reintroduced just 10 days later amid a spike in infections, with 90 per cent of cases blamed on the Indian variant.  

Israel has had one of the world’s fastest vaccination drives. It has already inoculated 57 per cent of the population.    

An anonymous senior Israeli minister working on the country’s plans for ending the epidemic told Ynet the data was ‘disturbing’.

‘The vaccine is probably less effective for infections and mild illness,’ they said.

Rising cases have alarmed authorities in the country, which are now offering jabs to all 10 to 19-year-olds in an effort to beat the virus.

There were more than 2,600 infections in the country on Monday, more than double the same time last week. But only 35 of these were in hospital.

This is a fifth of the country’s peak in the darkest days of January, when there were 10,000 cases reported every day. 

Boris Johnson today set out England’s plans for final lockdown easings, with rules on face masks and social distancing set to be ditched on Freedom Day. 

The Prime Minister made the call amid a successful vaccination drive, which has got a first dose to 45million people — or 86.1 per cent of adults.

Israel (green) saw its cases spike on June 15 after it relaxed remaining rules including a requirement to wear face masks indoors. But ten days later they were reimposed. The UK's Covid cases are skyrocketing before the last restrictions are lifted (red line)

Israel (green) saw its cases spike on June 15 after it relaxed remaining rules including a requirement to wear face masks indoors. But ten days later they were reimposed. The UK’s Covid cases are skyrocketing before the last restrictions are lifted (red line)

Britain (red line) and Israel (green line) have both vaccinated around 60 per cent of their population against the virus

Britain (red line) and Israel (green line) have both vaccinated around 60 per cent of their population against the virus

But deaths due to the virus have remained flat. Figures from Israel (green line) and the UK (red line)  show the vaccines still slash the risk of hospitalisation with the variant

But deaths due to the virus have remained flat. Figures from Israel (green line) and the UK (red line)  show the vaccines still slash the risk of hospitalisation with the variant

But daily cases in the UK have been above 20,000 for eight days in a row. There were 27,334 recorded today, up 19.5 per cent on the same time last week.

There are almost 2,000 Covid patients in England’s hospitals, up a quarter from 1,465 last week. 

Israel and the UK are both considering dishing out booster jabs before the winter to protect against the expected winter surge.

And Pfizer’s chief executive, Albert Bourla, has claimed people will likely need a third dose 12 months after they are fully vaccinated.

Despite fears vaccines may be less effective over time, one top Oxford University expert has said Britain should park plans for the booster drive and ship spare doses to poorer countries. 

Sir Andrew Pollard argued it would be ‘difficult to justify’ giving out top-ups in the UK when rates are lagging behind so badly in low-income nations. 

Fewer than one per cent of the world’s Covid vaccine supplies have gone to poorer nations so far.

Sir Andrew, who was knighted last month for his role running trials of the Oxford jab, also admitted ‘we do not have the evidence yet that we need boosters’.

Writing in The Times today about No10’s plan to dish out top-up jabs this autumn, he said ‘it is very early to make the call’ because only six months have passed since the first batch of second doses were dished out.

‘If a booster is not needed yet, it may be better to wait, since they usually work better when given later,’ he added.    


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