Lessons from Israel: How long can the two doses protect us from coronavirus?

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Israel, an early leader in the global Covid-19 vaccination race, is planning a fourth shot to control the shrinking antibody count among its population. Israel started administering the third booster dose in August. Many countries are about to start booster doses, but scientists said they need more evidence to justify the same.

Israel's coronavirus cases have soared in recent weeks. And this is at a time when about three in five Israelis are fully vaccinated. As of September 12, 2021, the proportion of the fully vaccinated population in Israel is higher than in many countries, including China.

After the sudden rise in Covid-19 cases, health officials realised that the effectiveness of the two initial doses was falling, and they were not generating enough antibodies.

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"The vaccines fade over time, and after six months, the decline is significant. People become infected even after two vaccines," director-general of Israel's health ministry Nachman Ash said in a radio interview on September 12.

But scientists said in a recently published research paper that despite the focus on booster shots, we still need to care more about the first dose around the world.

"Any decision about the need or timing of boosting should be based on careful analyses of adequately controlled clinical or epidemiological data, or both, indicating a persistent and meaningful reduction in severe disease," Philip R Krause, a scientist at the United States Food and Drug Administration and lead author of the paper, wrote in Lancet medical journal.

"As more information becomes available, it may first provide evidence that boosting is needed in some subpopulations. However, these high-stakes decisions should be based on peer-reviewed and publicly available data and robust international scientific discussion," he added in a research note.

Israel has already administered a third dose to 2.8 million people so far. Others, including the US, UK and European Union, plan to launch booster doses soon.

In addition to the third dose, nearly 2.7 million Israelis already have had two doses, and almost 0.5 million have had just one dose. According to Israel's health ministry data, about 1 million people haven't received any vaccine doses.

Infographic by India Today DIU

Vaccinations began in Israel on December 19, 2020. Compared to many other countries, it inoculated its citizens quickly, and the country now has around 60 per cent fully vaccinated population. However, that could not save the country from further infections. As a result, Israel has been the fastest to roll out the booster dose.

Vaccine disparity

Nearly 5.8 billion vaccine doses have been administered globally, but 80 per cent of them have been administered in high and upper-middle-income countries.

According to the World Health Organization, only 2 per cent of vaccines reach African countries. Last month, it called for a global moratorium on booster doses until the end of September to provide at least one dose to poor and riskier countries.

"There are countries with less than 2 per cent vaccination coverage, most of them in Africa, who are not even getting their first and second doses," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on September 14.

"And starting with boosters, especially giving it to healthy populations, is really not right."

Covid swell in Israel

In early June, cases of Covid-19 were waning in Israel. However, nearly four months later, the virus returned. The country reported almost 7,000 new Covid cases and 29 deaths on September 12. Daily cases are almost 18 per cent higher, and daily deaths about 24 per cent, compared to last week.

Infographic by India Today DIU

Compared to other countries such as the US and UK, the caseload is higher in Israel. For example, out of one lakh people, nearly 47 people are infected in the US (27 a month ago) and 50 in the UK (48 a month ago), while Israel has reported 93 cases (32 a month ago).

Infographic by India Today DIU

The highly transmissible Delta variant is responsible for the current spike in cases. There have been 11,84,053 infections and 7,406 deaths in the country since the pandemic began.

Israel has mostly been using Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines to inoculate its citizens. However, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that Covid vaccines give weaker protection against the Delta variant. And that is a new concern the world is grappling with.

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