Alon Hershko, children, Covid-19, Delta Variant, Hadassah Hospital, Hadassah Medical Centre, Hadassah Medical Organisation, Infectious Disease, Israel, Nathan Jeffay, Pandemic, Ran Balicer, Times of Israel, Vaccinations, vaccine, virus
‘’If we weren’t so well-vaccinated, lockdown would be looming.’’
Israel would be in the throes of a huge virus spike and hurtling toward a new lockdown, had it not reached such high vaccine coverage, the government’s top COVID adviser said.
Despite having a large population 12 years old and younger who cannot currently receive shots, Israel is upholding its reputation as the world leader in inoculation against the coronavirus, with 60 percent of the population fully vaccinated.
At hospitals, doctors are breathing a sigh of relief, and saying the situation shows that while some vaccinated people are being infected, it’s clear that inoculation is downgrading their illness and preventing deterioration.
“This is very good news,” Alon Hershko, Head of the Coronavirus Department at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre, told The Times of Israel. “This was what we anticipated as most people are vaccinated, which lessens the severity of the disease. But it’s extremely reassuring to see that our hypothesis is correct.”
He is hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst. “There is no way we can know what is going to happen in the next couple of weeks,” he said. “But we have accumulated a lot of experience with the virus, and the serious disease it can cause.”
Still, Israel’s current infection numbers are a real problem for officials, who have reinstituted mask-wearing indoors, tightened border controls, and delayed the relaunch of large-scale incoming tourism. In mid-June, there were under 20 new cases per day. Now, there are around 300 and the number is expected to rise to 500 next week.
However, the spike isn’t translating into an increase in serious cases. If a virus spike results in serious cases, it normally takes a week to ten days for the effect to be felt in hospitals, which would mean that patient numbers should now be rising. They aren’t.
Speaking to The Times of Israel on Thursday, as the extra-infectious Delta variant pushed the number of citizens confirmed COVID-positive close to 2,000, Ran Balicer, Chief Innovation officer at Clalit Health Services, said: “If we weren’t so well vaccinated, a lockdown would now be looming in our future, and we certainly wouldn’t be able to take such mild decisions.”
He said that widespread vaccination rates across adult age groups is protecting against a major spread of cases, and the particularly high rate among the elderly (well over 90%), who are most at risk of serious illness and death, has “dramatically reduced the population-level risk of overwhelming hospital capacity.”
Balicer believes that while Israel’s overall situation is good, caution should be maintained. “There are several reasons to reduce or delay dissemination of the virus if we can,” he said.
While Israel is in a strong position vis-a-vis the coronavirus, there are challenges. There is a sharp rise in the number of 12- to 15-year-olds who are getting vaccinated, but most children are still unprotected, as are around 200,000 people over the age of 50, which Hershko said underscores the need for vigilance.
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