Israel is currently fighting its fourth wave of coronavirus infections despite having over 60 percent of its population fully vaccinated.
A monitoring team from Hebrew University in Jerusalem said that about 90 percent of confirmed cases were from the over-fifties group of vaccinated individuals. Meanwhile, a study conducted by researchers from the same university and the Hadassah University Medical Centre said the Pfizer vaccine is only 60 to 80 percent effective against the Delta strain.
"It seems there’s a reduced efficiency of the vaccine, at least for part of the population," said the researchers.
In response to the report, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: "We do not know exactly to what degree the vaccine helps, but it is significantly less."
Israel has been relying on Pfizer's vaccine to keep COVID-19 cases low, and officials said that over 5.7 million people have received at least one dose in the past months. But the surge in new coronavirus cases suggests that the vaccine is ineffective at protecting against the virus and that the government's mass vaccination campaign was pointless.
When asked to comment, a spokesman for Pfizer insisted that recent studies have shown that the vaccine is effective against new variants. (Related: Pentagon to start vaccinating troops with the Pfizer vaccine.)
The Delta variant is a cause for concern around the world, leading governments to reimpose strict lockdowns and mask mandates in an attempt to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. While officials in the U.S. and other countries have touted mass vaccination as a means to bring an end to lockdowns, the rise of Delta variant infections shows that it is unclear what the next steps will be.
Reports say that Israel is considering a wave of new lockdowns due to the Delta variant. During his remarks, Bennett said that the goal is to allow routine life to continue with adjustments to the coronavirus. This comment didn't make it clear whether or not this will include lockdowns.
"We all hope to see a slowdown, but the facts at the moment are that there isn’t a slowdown—not here and not around the world," he added.
Sharon Alroy-Preis, who leads the health ministry's public health services, said that lockdowns are not being considered this time. “We are not at a place of [considering] a lockdown during the holiday period [in September].”
Lockdowns are being reimplemented in other parts of the world, including Thailand and Australia. Other areas have also implemented restrictions, curfews and suspended domestic flights. In Sydney, local authorities have ordered a shutdown on building construction and a ban on non-essential retail.
"We find that following the implementation of [shelter-in-place (SIP)] policies, excess mortality increases," the researchers said.
In their report, the researchers acknowledged that while preliminary evidence suggests that SIP policies slowed COVID-19 transmissions early in the pandemic, more recent studies show that people have exhibited a change in behavior based on the dynamics of the outbreak.
Even if SIP policies reduced transmission, their impact on overall health remains unclear. These policies, researchers suggested, likely had important but unintended consequences such as unemployment and stress, leading to "increased substance use and suicides."
"These complex effects suggest that SIP policies might reduce COVID-19 related mortality, but might also increase mortality from other causes," the researchers wrote.
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