Israel will start vaccinating its population with variant-tailored second-generation coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer, which is better suited to fight against new COVID-19 strains, by the end of this month, according to a media report on Thursday.
The consignment of the vaccines landed in Israel on Tuesday and is expected to reach the clinics by the end of September, coronavirus task force chief Salman Zarka announced on Wednesday.
Zarka, however, did not specify as to how many new shots were delivered by Pfizer, The Times of Israel newspaper reported.
He said they are expected to be available in clinics within two weeks or at least by the end of the month, the report said.
Zarka also did not share details of how the vaccines were to be administered. In the earlier phases, it started with front-line workers and those at high risk.
“The vaccines have already landed in Israel, and in the coming days they will be delivered to healthcare providers, and we’ll be able to get started and administer them,” Zarka was quoted as saying in the report.
He asserted that the vaccines are “very very much recommended” for those at-risk and for medical professionals, adding that they will also be made available to the general public.
Israel was one of the first nations to fully vaccinate its population. Some 4.5 million Israelis are already vaccinated with the third dose and about 800K lakh elderly and those at at-risk have been injected with a fourth dose. Over 4.5 million coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Israel since the start of the pandemic, with 11,667 recorded deaths.
The new vaccines, customised to the Omicron variant but interred to also hold up well to subsequent strains, have raised expectations and the scientific community is waiting to see their effectiveness as compared to the original vaccines.
“We are receiving the first update to vaccines after two years, which is exciting, but we are still missing data regarding the real-life effectiveness of the new shots,” leading immunologist professor Cyrille Cohen said.
Cohen, the head of Bar Ilan University’s immunology lab, stressed that effectiveness, in this case, should not be judged by infection levels, but rather by cases of serious illness.
Based on the very limited research that exists, which mostly relies on mouse model studies and in-vitro observation, the immunologist expects gains in cutting infection to be “modest”, but believes they “may well help to enhance protection against severe disease.”
“For this reason, they are most important for vulnerable and old populations, people with comorbidities, or for the immunosuppressed,” Cohen was quoted as saying in the report.
Elaborating on the need to encourage taking new shots, the expert pointed out that research has shown that boosters give additional protection, albeit relatively short-lasting, and early studies indicate the updated shots are at least as effective as original vaccines.
“This means there is nothing to lose by taking new shots, and time may show there are notable benefits,” he added.
Some indication about the vaccine’s effectiveness can be studied within a few weeks by comparing the health of people who took updated shots and those who didn’t, but it still won’t provide a full answer on how much the new shots will help Israel through the winter,” the report said.
This is because nobody knows what variants could arise over the coming weeks.
“So far, it doesn’t seem that new variants have appeared,” Cohen noted adding, “But this may change later in the fall and winter, so therefore, we can’t predict what the effectiveness of the vaccines will be.”
“The fact that we have access to updated vaccines, approved by regulators, is certainly good news for the most vulnerable with the coming of the winter,” the immunologist stressed.
“But really, there is still some uncertainty as we don’t know how well our defence systems will stand up until we know the nature of the attack, namely how many mutations the next variant has, where in the virus they occur, and how well the new vaccines can deal with them,” he said.
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