Hailed for vaccination drive, Israel sees COVID-19 spike after reopening
Recently hailed for its COVID-19 vaccination coverage and fast return to "normalcy," Israel is quickly turning into one of the pandemic's biggest hotspots. The country recorded the world's highest per-capita caseload last week, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Israel, a country of nine million people, has now become an example to the rest of the world of what's coming next.
Israel had led the way in terms of booster shots and vaccinations among children. Roughly 100,000 Israelis are being administered vaccines daily; many receiving the third shot. With waning protection from vaccines, the country's COVID-19 chief has even called for a fourth dose. However, Israel has dropped from #1 to #33 on Bloomberg's vaccine tracker amid vaccine hesitancy among Orthodox Jewish and Arab populations.
Till September 6, around 28% of Israel's population (or 2.6 million people) had been administered booster doses. The percentage increases to 64% among those aged over 60 years, who are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Notably, the booster shot can be administered to anyone over the age of 12, who was vaccinated at least five months ago.
Despite its vaccination success, the Delta variant caused a spike in infections over the summer. Israel witnessed a rise in cases, which touched a record high of 11,316 daily infections on September 2. However, the number of people falling severely ill and being hospitalized has not increased as much as it did during the previous wave; indicating that the vaccines' protection is working.
The rise in infections has been attributed to more cases among children (who are largely unvaccinated) and some breakthrough infections. Incidentally, unvaccinated people account for over 10 times as many serious cases compared to those who are fully vaccinated.
Tellingly, the latest surge has left public health officials and politicians worried about the older populations. The worry has heightened in light of the return of millions of children to schools last week and the Jewish New Year this week. According to epidemiologists, infections are seeing a decline among those in their 30s owing to booster doses and restrictions on bars and restaurants.
Eyal Leshem, a professor specializing in infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Ha-Shomer, told Bloomberg, "If you are able to maintain life without lockdown, and to avoid very high numbers of hospitalizations and death, then this is what life with COVID-19 looks like." Ran Balicer, the chair of the government's expert advisory panel, said the reopening of schools was the wildcard.
Balicer said the data from Israel in the coming weeks will help the world reexamine the booster shot program. "A year ago, we virtually had no protection other than a complete lockdown," Leshem added. "Now, we have an open education system, fully open commerce, and despite over 50,000 cases a week, we are not seeing increases in the number of severe cases and hospitalization."