JERUSALEM, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Four months into one of its worst COVID-19 outbreaks, Israel is seeing a sharp drop in new infections and severe illness, aided by its use of vaccine boosters, vaccine passports and mask mandates, scientists and health officials said.
Israel was struck by its fourth coronavirus wave in June, fuelled by the fast-spreading Delta variant.
Rather than imposing new lockdown measures, the government bet on a third booster dose of the Pfizer Inc (PFE.N)/BioNTech vaccine for people age 12 and up, mandated face coverings and enforced use of a Green Pass - proof of vaccination, recovery from the illness or a negative test for the virus - at restaurants and other venues, even for children.
Since peaking in early September, daily infections in Israel have fallen more than 80%, with severe cases nearly halved.
"Day by day we are breaking the Delta wave," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday, crediting government policy for "close, smart and flexible management allowing life alongside coronavirus."
Israel's "Living with COVID" strategy, which has not come without cost or controversy, has kept schools and the economy open.
The Israeli Health Ministry on Thursday presented the latest safety and effectiveness data from its booster campaign to a panel of advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considering authorization of additional booster shots.
The data show that among people over 60 - the first group to receive boosters - infections began declining rapidly about two weeks after third doses were administered, while still climbing among other age groups.
A data analysis by Doron Gazit and Yinon Ashkenazy of the Hebrew University's COVID-19 monitoring team showed the virus' reproduction rate - its ability to spread - began a sharp fall among each age group following the third shot.
Two months into the Delta wave, vaccinated people over the age of 60 made up more than half of severe COVID-19 cases. The majority were over 70 with health conditions that put them at higher risk.
Since administration of boosters, mostly unvaccinated, often younger, people are bearing the brunt of serious illness. They make up about 75% of hospitalized patients in severe condition, while those vaccinated with two or three shots account for a quarter of such cases.
A third dose has so far been effective in curbing severe breakthrough cases among vaccinated people age 40 and up, according to the health ministry.
There is less available data for teens and young adults. However, the ministry said its findings so far show that a third dose has not increased the risk of myocarditis, a rare heart inflammation, in younger people.
'THE JURY IS STILL OUT'
Ran Balicer, who heads the government's coronavirus expert advisory panel, said a combination of measures curbed the Delta surge.
"These include the masks mandate, the Green Passes, the massive testing both with PCR testing and rapid antigen tests. But undoubtedly, the most important impactful factor in bringing down the Delta summer surge was the mass vaccination campaign with booster doses," Balicer said.
In England, where boosters have been administered to roughly 5% of the population, masks have largely been abandoned and vaccine passports are not mandatory, COVID-19 cases are on the rise.
Some scientists said Israels decision in late August to approve a third vaccine dose for young adults and teens was premature, lacking clear evidence of a benefit. They argue the focus should still be on convincing unvaccinated people to accept the shots.
The United States and several European countries have so far authorized boosters only for older adults, people with weakened immune systems or workers at high risk of coronavirus exposure.
The World Health Organization has pleaded with wealthier nations to hold off on boosters while many countries struggle to access vaccines.
"Israel rushed, even gambled, when it came to approving a third dose for the whole population and not to specific age groups as other countries did, said Hagai Levine, professor of epidemiology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
In the midst of a pandemic you sometimes have to make a decision based on partial evidence," Levine said. Nevertheless, the jury is still out on third doses for the entire population."
Bennett has been criticized by some scientists for rejecting tougher measures that would have kept Delta infections lower from the start. They included government health officials who feared the "Living with COVID" policy exacted too heavy a toll.
"We have 1,400 people who died in this wave. So there are benefits to keeping the economy open and there is some cost to that," Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at Israel's Health Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post conference on Tuesday.
By September, hospitals strained to care for COVID-19 cases that could have perhaps been avoided, doctors and health officials said.
"It's a good policy, but it has its price," said Yael Haviv-Yadid, head of the critical care ward at Sheba Medical Centre, whose unit saw an influx of young, unvaccinated patients. "The teams are very tired, burned out."
So far, 3.7 million people have taken a third shot, more than a third of Israel's population.
"Israel was the first country to deal with the combined challenge posed by the Delta variant and mass waning immunity, but it is definitely not the last" Balicer cautioned.
"Other countries that will be faced with this complex challenge will have to figure out their own balance," he added, "and the costs can be high."
Additional reporting by Dedi Hayun in Tel Aviv and Ryan McNeill and Alistair Smout in London; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
See more here:
Analysis: With boosters, masks and Green Pass, Israel sees a COVID-19 wave in retreat - Reuters
- Alabama coronavirus cases and deaths | USAFacts - November 29th, 2021
- Omicron variant could fuel global surge with 'severe consequences,' WHO warns: COVID-19 updates - USA TODAY - November 29th, 2021
- COVID-19 Hospital Capacity of NOLAND HOSPITAL TUSCALOOSA ... - November 29th, 2021
- COVID-19: Top news stories about the coronavirus pandemic on 29 November | World Economic Forum - World Economic Forum - November 29th, 2021
- The Omicron variant: What it is, and how California is handling COVID-19 right now - Los Angeles Times - November 29th, 2021
- What We Know and Don't About the Omicron COVID-19 Variant - Wheeling Intelligencer - November 29th, 2021
- 'This is stressful': More than 100 Arizona classrooms quarantine over COVID-19 in 12 districts - AZCentral.com - November 29th, 2021
- Nearly 200 new COVID-19 cases reported on Cape and Islands - Cape Cod Times - November 29th, 2021
- Severe COVID-19: 1 in 100 patients may have brain complications - Medical News Today - November 29th, 2021
- Parts of northern China tighten curbs on new COVID-19 flare-ups - Reuters - November 29th, 2021
- Britain to offer everyone a COVID-19 booster eventually - vaccine official - Reuters - November 29th, 2021
- Sixers' Joel Embiid on bout with COVID-19: 'I really thought I wasn't going to make it' - CBSSports.com - November 29th, 2021
- COVID-19 to have ripple effect on multiple Cowboys coaches for Week 13 - Cowboys Wire - November 29th, 2021
- Andrew Cuomo uses old briefing to tell New Yorkers to take COVID precautions - New York Post - November 29th, 2021
- Cowboys starting RT Terence Steele, several assistant coaches out against Saints due to COVID-19 outbreak - ESPN - November 29th, 2021
- Wall St Week Ahead COVID-19 fears reappear as a threat to market - Reuters - November 29th, 2021
- Children and teens lead surge in COVID-19 cases - Press Herald - November 29th, 2021
- SU to expand size of COVID-19 randomized testing groups - The Daily Orange - November 29th, 2021
- COVID-19 Daily Update 11-29-2021 - West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources - November 29th, 2021
- COVID-19: Vitamin D may be able to 'switch off' lung inflammation - Medical News Today - November 27th, 2021
- 'This has been some trying times:' Diego Sanchez in hospital with serious case of COVID-19 - USA TODAY - November 27th, 2021
- Swiss to vote on ending COVID-19 restrictions - New York Post - November 27th, 2021
- Mercks Covid-19 Pill Was 30% Effective in Final Analysis, Company Says - The Wall Street Journal - November 27th, 2021
- Covid-19 Variant Upends Investor Bets on Rate Increases - The Wall Street Journal - November 27th, 2021
- 7 "Least Safe States" During COVID-19, Says New Study Eat This Not That - Eat This, Not That - November 25th, 2021
- Several infected after convention touting ivermectin; some hospitals overwhelmed ahead of Thanksgiving holiday: Latest COVID-19 updates - USA TODAY - November 25th, 2021
- Texas COVID-19 hospitalizations are low but experts still advise caution - The Texas Tribune - November 25th, 2021
- COVID-19: Top news stories about the coronavirus pandemic on 24 November | World Economic Forum - World Economic Forum - November 25th, 2021
- Thanksgiving arrives and, yes, COVID-19 is still hanging around - The San Diego Union-Tribune - November 25th, 2021
- Maryland Department Of Health Pauses Release Of COVID-19 Data For Thanksgiving Holiday - CBS Baltimore - November 25th, 2021
- Interim statement on COVID-19 vaccination for children and adolescents - World Health Organization - November 25th, 2021
- Bars, restaurants navigating COVID-19 spike on busiest night of year - WOODTV.com - November 25th, 2021
- Family battles over COVID-19 vaccine mandates on the menu in NYC this Thanksgiving (opinion) - silive.com - November 25th, 2021
- Slovaks lock down to slow world's highest COVID-19 infection rate - Reuters - November 25th, 2021
- Utah hospitals 'bursting at the seams' with COVID-19 patients ahead of holiday gatherings, expert says - Salt Lake Tribune - November 25th, 2021
- 12 residents of St. Joseph's shelter test positive for COVID-19. Most are vaccinated and asymptomatic - Berkshire Eagle - November 25th, 2021
- COVID-19 threatens to knock away Germany's last pillar of growth - Reuters - November 25th, 2021
- County Consolidates COVID-19 Testing, Vaccines, Boosters, and Antibody Treatment into One Site - Hillsborough County - November 25th, 2021
- Starting Nov. 23, Public Health offers walk-in COVID-19 vaccines & boosters every weekday City and Borough of Juneau - City and Borough of Juneau - November 23rd, 2021
- State reports 11 new COVID-19 cases for Juneau for Nov. 20-22 - City and Borough of Juneau - November 23rd, 2021
- COVID-19: Top news stories about the coronavirus pandemic on 23 November - World Economic Forum - November 23rd, 2021
- 90% of U.S. federal employees have received at least one COVID-19 dose -White House - Reuters - November 23rd, 2021
- Erie hospital's COVID-19 units: A closer look at the battle to beat the virus - GoErie.com - November 23rd, 2021
- Michigan hospitals sound alarm over near-record COVID-19 hospitalizations - The Detroit News - November 23rd, 2021
- Coronavirus updates: 6 people die of COVID-19, 75 fatalities in November - Redding Record Searchlight - November 23rd, 2021
- COVID-19 in pregnancy linked to stillbirths, research finds - myfox8.com - November 23rd, 2021
- Alaska reports 750 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths over the weekend - Anchorage Daily News - November 23rd, 2021
- COVID-19 cases among kids up in Wisconsin, as the state is averaging more than 3,000 cases a day - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - November 23rd, 2021
- Austrias Return to Covid-19 Lockdown Is Met With Anger, Resignation - The Wall Street Journal - November 23rd, 2021
- Beshear outlines COVID-19 recommendations for Thanksgiving | News - Huntington Herald Dispatch - November 23rd, 2021
- COVID-19 testing and vaccination schedule for Thanksgiving week - City of Fort Worth - November 23rd, 2021
- As Thanksgiving nears, Covid-19 numbers in Onondaga County are as bad as last winter - syracuse.com - November 23rd, 2021
- Hospitals in Idaho still in crisis of care, but COVID-19 cases trending down - The Spokesman-Review - November 23rd, 2021
- COVID-19 cases again on the rise in Kentucky. Are we seeing the start of a winter surge? - Courier Journal - November 23rd, 2021
- Nearly all University of Tennessee student employees are required to get COVID-19 vaccines - Knoxville News Sentinel - November 23rd, 2021
- Californias COVID-19 case rate is among nations lowest, but threat remains into holidays - KTLA - November 23rd, 2021
- A New Part of Thanksgiving Dinner: Bring Your Negative Covid-19 Test - The Wall Street Journal - November 23rd, 2021
- Wyomings active confirmed COVID-19 case count drops by 208 to 1,290 on Monday - Oil City News - November 23rd, 2021
- Study Shows Better COVID-19 Outcomes Among Vaccinated People with Rheumatic Diseases, Lupus - Lupus Foundation of America - November 23rd, 2021
- Plastic waste release caused by COVID-19 and its fate in the global ocean - pnas.org - November 23rd, 2021
- Daily coronavirus updates: COVID-19 cases now rising ... - November 21st, 2021
- 3 deaths and 850 new COVID-19 cases reported across the state - Bangor Daily News - November 21st, 2021
- Will Thanksgiving fuel a new COVID-19 surge in Oregon? Heres how to have a safer gathering amid rising U.S. - oregonlive.com - November 21st, 2021
- COVID-19 In Maryland: More Than 1K New Cases & 9 Deaths Reported Saturday - CBS Baltimore - November 21st, 2021
- The First Wave Shows What We Haven't Seen of Covid-19 - The Intercept - November 21st, 2021
- Islanders missing several players to COVID-19 protocol ahead of new arena opener - The Athletic - November 21st, 2021
- Ski resorts in northern Italy reopen amid COVID-19 worries - Reuters - November 21st, 2021
- Sixers Matisse Thybulle will return from COVID-19 for Saturdays game against the Blazers - The Philadelphia Inquirer - November 21st, 2021
- Research links COVID-19 in pregnancy with stillbirths - Portland Press Herald - pressherald.com - November 21st, 2021
- Wigan Athletic vs Oxford United postponed due to COVID-19 outbreak - The Athletic - November 21st, 2021
- Experts predict an alarming surge of US COVID-19 cases this winter | TheHill - The Hill - November 18th, 2021
- Two more Onondaga County residents die of Covid-19, including a woman in her 20s - syracuse.com - November 18th, 2021
- COVID-19 in South Dakota: 486 total new cases; Death toll at 2,303; Active cases at 6,775 - KELOLAND.com - November 18th, 2021
- Dutch weigh options to slow rising COVID-19 infections among children - Reuters - November 18th, 2021
- Active COVID-19 cases continue to rise on Thursday - WBOY.com - November 18th, 2021
- NFL to intensify COVID-19 protocols around Thanksgiving holiday - ESPN - November 18th, 2021
- Maine reports 933 new cases of COVID-19, boosters expanded to everyone 18 and older - Press Herald - November 18th, 2021
- Three Unknowns Will Define COVID-19 This Winter - The Atlantic - November 18th, 2021
- COVID-19 is worst in persistently poor rural counties - Successful Farming - November 18th, 2021
- How Detroit Red Wings must right themselves amid COVID-19 scare - Detroit Free Press - November 18th, 2021