The Pfizer/ BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine may be less effective against the Delta variant, suggested data released by Israel's Health Ministry. The country has seen an increase in infections after social distancing restrictions were eased at the beginning of June.
The Delta variant, which emerged in India, is more infectious and has been rapidly spreading globally, forcing governments to delay the lifting of lockdown restrictions and use new technologies to scan people for infections.
After vaccinating over 50 percent of its population with at least one dose of the vaccine, Israel began easing restrictions in June, with reports suggesting that wearing masks were also not mandatory. However, the number of cases, which was earlier in single digits, has now risen to 343. Bloomberg reported that 55 percent of new infections were among individuals who were already vaccinated.
Data released by the Health Ministry showed that vaccinations protected 64 percent of people against illness in the period of June 6 to early July. Previously, this number stood at 94 percent.
The data also revealed a slight drop in the vaccines' ability to prevent serious illness. Previously, the vaccine was reported to prevent hospitalization in 97 percent of the people but the recent data showed the number stood at 93 percent.
The government plans to further study infected individuals to evaluate if the effect of the vaccine is wearing off in people of certain ages or with certain pre-existing conditions. A recent study had shown that Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may provide lifetime immunity to COVID-19.
The recent rise in infections with the Delta variant in Israel is leading to the question if the Pfizer vaccine is less effective against the variant. Pfizer has declined to comment on interpretations of this data.
Data scientist Eran Segal at Weizmann Institute of Science was confident that Israel was unlikely to see high levels of hospitalizations this time around. He told Reuters that stepping up measures like vaccination and testing of people returning from abroad was necessary now.
The government is considering placing additional restrictions, after making face masks mandatory in public places after the number of seriously ill people rose to 35 this weekend.