Israel is currently experiencing a surge in the number of people testing positive for the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. On June 24, 2021, the country’s Ministry of Health announced that it had registered 227 new coronavirus cases—the highest daily increase since May. This compares to only 13 cases of the virus the previous week. As a result, Israel’s National Coronavirus Project Coordinator Nachman Ash announced the Israeli government will reinstate a mandate requiring people to wear masks indoors.1 2 3 4 5 6
The Israeli government has also empowered health officials to quarantine anyone believed to have been exposed to the Delta variant even if they have been fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or recovered from the illness and assumed to have artificial immunity. It has also delayed by one month the planned re-opening of the country to vaccinated tourists from July 1 to Aug. 1.5 6
“Our goal at the moment, first and foremost, is to safeguard the citizens of Israel from the Delta variant that is running amok in the world,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. “We have decided to take action as soon as possible, even now, in order not to pay a heavier price later, by taking quick and responsible actions.”5 6
“The entrance of the delta variant has changed the transition dynamics,” said Ran Balicer, MD, MPH, who heads an advisory committee on COVID-19 for the Israeli government.4
Pfizer’s COVID-19 Shot May Not Be as Effective Against Delta Variant as First Assumed
According to the Health Ministry’s director general Dr. Chezy Levy, between 40 to 50 percent of the new coronavirus infections are in people who have been vaccinated for COVID-19. Approximately 70 percent of the COVID-19 cases have been caused by the Delta variant. “Even though the numbers are low, the fact that this is reaching vaccinated people means that we are still checking how many vaccinated people have also been infected,” Dr. Levy said.1 3
In a recent article in Business Insider, Marianne Guenot pointed out that the 40-50 percent figures are estimates and that they are preliminary, but that they “underline the worry that the Delta variant could mean the virus continues to spread even in places like Israel where large portions of the population have been vaccinated.” She noted, “Of all the coronavirus variants, the Delta variant could pose the greatest risk to vaccinated people.”1
About 57 percent Israel’s nine million population has received Pfizer/BioNTech’s experimental messenger RNA (mRNA) BNT162b2 biologic for COVID-19. In March, when the Ministry of Health first announced it had detected the Delta variant in Israel, it appeared that BNT162b2 would be effective against the new coronavirus strain.1 4 5 7
Last week, Pfizer’s medical director in Israel, Alon Rappaport, continued to insist that BNT162b2 was “very effective” against the Delta variant, despite the apparent conflicting data.8
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1 Guenot M. Israel says the Delta variant is infecting vaccinated people, representing as many as 50% of new cases. But they’re less severe. Business Insider June 24, 2021.
2 Haaretz. Israel Renews Indoor COVID Mask Mandate as Delta Variant Spreads. June 25, 2021.
3 Hart R. Israel Prepares To Reinstate Mask Mandate As Delta Variant Drives New Covid Surge. Forbes June 24, 2021.
4 Lieber D. Delta Variant Outbreak in Israel Infects Vaccinated Adults. The Wall Street Journal June 25, 2021.
5 Schulz B. Israel delays entry for vaccinated tourists as delta variant spreads. USA Today June 24, 2021.
6 Williams D. Vaccinated Israelis may need to quarantine because of Delta variant. Reuters June 23, 2021.
7 Reuters. New Covid strain detected in Israel; Pfizer vaccine appears effective against it. CNBC Mar. 30, 2021.
8 Reuters. Israeli Pfizer official: COVID vaccine effective against Delta variant. The Jerusalem Post June 24, 2021.