How Israel Got Hit Hard by the Delta Variant—but Rode It Out

October 12, 2021 | Arieh Kovler
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Earlier this year, the Jewish state remained far ahead of most of the world in its coronavirus-vaccination rate, having been the first country to acquire the vaccine, and having employed an efficient distribution mechanism. But the disease’s delta variant nonetheless led to a spike in cases and hospitalization that raised fears of a return to the worst days of the pandemic. Arieh Kovler explains why things never got so bad:

In the last few weeks, the COVID-19 picture has completely changed in Israel. Israel suffered from a delta wave that had the highest new daily coronavirus cases per capita of any country in the world in September. Despite what you might think, Israel no longer has a high percentage of vaccinated people compared to other industrialized countries. It was still just about true in July, but now, in October, it just isn’t true anymore.

When the delta variant began spreading in Israel among highly vaccinated populations, it looked a lot like it might have evolved to escape the immunity that the vaccines induced. . . . But it turned out that delta wasn’t “evading the vaccines” at all. People who’d been recently vaccinated were still well protected against the variant, but vaccine effectiveness waned over time against any variant of the coronavirus. Israel had vaccinated most of its adult population by March, and most of its vulnerable people by late January, making it one of the first countries to test the effectiveness of vaccine immunity over time.

The country did reintroduce some mitigations, like public masking . . . and modest limits on events. But mostly it pinned its hope on booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Israel initially offered boosters only to those over sixty, but within a few weeks they were available to anyone who’d been vaccinated at least five months previously. . . . The results were dramatic. The booster dose seemed to produce ten times the antibodies of the second dose. This also translated into a dramatic drop in infection among those who received it.

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