People will be given a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a Covid-19 mass vaccination center on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel on Monday January 4, 2020.
Kobi Wolf | 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, based on an unspecified number of people between June 20 and July 17, is down from a previous estimate of 64% two weeks ago and is in conflict with data from the UK that showed the Vaccination was 88% effective against symptoms, disease caused by the variant.
However, the two-dose vaccine still works very well in preventing serious illness, showing 88% effectiveness against hospitalization and 91% effectiveness against serious illness, according to Israeli data released Thursday.
“We have to keep in mind that these vaccines can become less effective over time,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Toronto.
He stressed that the syringes are still highly effective in preventing serious infections and helping hospital systems not get overwhelmed in the colder months. “We are still in the Covid era and anything can happen,” he said.
“We have to be prepared and we have to be agile that at some point people will need a booster,” he added. “This close monitoring, which is happening in places like Israel, the UK and other parts of the world, will be very helpful in moving policy forward when and when we need boosters.”
The Delta variant, which is already present in more than 104 countries, worries US health officials as they detect more breakthrough infections in fully vaccinated people, even though they are milder.
The Chief Medical Officer of the White House, Dr. Anthony Fauci said people who are fully vaccinated should consider wearing masks indoors as a precaution against the rapidly spreading variant in the US
Health professionals are concerned about the fall season, when Delta is expected to hit states with the lowest vaccination rates the hardest – unless those states and companies reintroduce mask rules, capacity limits, and other public health measures, which they largely withdraw to have.
“Of course we don’t want to see that,” said Fauci on Wednesday, referring to the so-called breakthrough infections. “This virus is very different from the viruses and variants that we have previously experienced. It has an exceptional ability to transmit from person to person.”
Dr. Paul Offit, who advises the FDA on Covid vaccines, said that while the vaccines still offer great protection against serious illness and death, they may not work as well against mild cases or the transmission of the disease to others.
He urged more Americans to get vaccinated, saying Delta was a highly contagious virus and the vaccinations would help people get seriously ill. Currently, less than half of the US population is fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by the CDC.
“This is rich and fertile soil for the virus to continue to reproduce and keep creating variants that may become increasingly resistant to vaccines or natural infections,” he said.
WHO officials said Monday the longer people around the world stay unvaccinated and social mixing continues, the higher the risk that a more dangerous variant will emerge.
The report from Israel, which began vaccinating its people before many other countries, is likely to back up the arguments made by drug manufacturers that people will eventually need to be given a booster to protect themselves from new variants.
Pfizer said earlier this month that immunity is waning from its two-dose vaccine and is now planning to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a booster dose. However, federal officials say that fully vaccinated Americans do not currently require additional vaccinations.
In a statement to CNBC, Pfizer said it remains confident that its two-dose regimen will protect against the coronavirus and its variants.
Still, it said a third dose might help after analysis from its Phase III study showed a decrease in effectiveness 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 that are 5 to 10 times higher than after two primary doses. “Said the company.