- Coronavirus vaccines are already reducing the number of COVID-19 cases, and several studies have proven it with hard data.
- A study from Israel indicates that significantly fewer people have developed life-threatening COVID-19 in vaccinated people over 60. The effects are mostly seen in cities where immunizations started sooner and covered more ground.
- The reduction in cases from vaccines was even more significant than the reductions observed during lockdowns.
- Data from a separate study in the UK also indicates that vaccinations have reduced the number of cases.
Coronavirus vaccines have been available in various Western countries since mid-December, with more than 56.5 million people having received at least one dose as of Tuesday morning. More than 11.26 million of those people have been fully vaccinated. It’s an impressive number, but one that isn’t high enough to put a dent in the pandemic. We’ve heard from various experts that vaccination rates will have to surpass 70% to achieve herd immunity. The vaccines would not prevent infection, as they’re meant to reduce the illness’s severity and prevent death. But the more people are protected via immunization, the harder it’ll be for the virus to spread. People will also need to continue using precautions, including face masks and social distancing after vaccination. But the first studies that have looked into the effects of coronavirus vaccines are here, and the news couldn’t be better. Herd immunity might be several months away, but vaccines are already cutting transmission rates in countries like Israel and the UK.
Israel is doing an admirable job at vaccinating its population. Some 3.17 million people got the first shot, which is more than 30% of the population, a percentage that no other country can match. Of those, 1.82 million people received both Pfizer/BioNTech doses. As a result, Israel will be one of the first countries to document COVID-19 immunity and one of the first countries to understand when herd immunity is reached.
The immunization campaign is already working in Israel, BBC News reports. The country observed an overall drop in cases, even though it’s battling an outbreak that includes the new UK and South African strains. But the number of infections in people over 60 has dropped. The change was noticed especially in the older people and in areas where the vaccine program is more advanced.
Israeli Ministry of Health (MoH) confirmed that just 531 people over the age of 60 tested positive for coronavirus out of almost 750,000 fully vaccinated people. Only 38 were hospitalized with moderate, severe, or critical cases, and only three deaths occurred. The report notes that it’s unclear whether or not the infected people contracted the illness before immunity was fully formed. Still, the figures are well within the 95% efficacy percentage of the Pfizer drug.
BBC points out that before vaccines had time to take effect, more than 7,000 infections were recorded, including around 700 cases of moderate to critical illness and 307 deaths. The number of infections fell considerably at 14 days after receiving the first jab.
It’s not just vaccinations that might have contributed to the drop in cases since Israel is still in lockdown. The data analysis did not have a control group of unvaccinated people to measure the lockdown effects. But researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Institute of Technology tried to determine whether restrictions played a role in the drop of cases.
The researchers found a bigger drop in infections and hospitalizations in the group of people over 60 and in the cities that quickly vaccinated the largest portion of the population. These changes were not observed in previous lockdowns, indicating that the vaccine is already curbing infections.
A third study further supports the idea that the Pfizer drug works. Israel’s healthcare provider Maccabi revealed that only 66 of 248,000 vaccinated people were infected more than a week after the second dose. None of them were hospitalized and all had mild symptoms. The organization compared its findings to a group of 900,000 people who were not vaccinated. Some 8,250 people were infected, 11 times more than in the vaccine group. They estimated the vaccine was 92% effective, close to the official rating of 95%.
The Times reports (via The Queensland Times) that vaccines show signs of being quite effective in Britain. The research will be published in a few days, but the data apparently shows that vaccines are indeed reducing the number of cases. That’s according to Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI).
“The preliminary data indicate a vaccine effect from the first dose in both younger adults and in older adults over 80,” the official said. “The effect seems to increase over time. It is possible that we may get stronger and better long-term protection by a delayed second dose.”
The UK made a major change to its vaccination regimen, choosing to vaccinate as many people as possible with the first doses and delay the second one for several weeks after the recommended 3-4 weeks wait time. The officials also said that different vaccines might be combined so that shortages won’t impact the second jab.
Harnden said that the early data mostly covers the Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be administered in the country. As for vaccine mixing, he said there are no studies on the practice, but there should be no problems. He added that evidence shows it’s better to receive a second dose of a different vaccine than none at all.
This study could be even more important than Israel’s data, as the UK is battling a more infectious strain that fueled a record wave of infection around the beginning of 2021. The country saw COVID-19 case numbers skyrocket at the time, despite a strict lockdown that was in place.