There is no reason to worry about Israel downgrading the efficacy of Pfizer‘s Covid vaccine against the Indian variant, experts say.
Israeli health chiefs now claim the jab blocks 64 per cent of infections, compared to 94 per cent in May before the mutant strain took hold. Ministers described the data as ‘disturbing’.
But scientists today attempted to quash any fears about the vaccine efficacy, saying overall the picture was still ‘reassuring’.
The same statistics showed the jab still protects against serious illness, slashing the risk of being hospitalised by 93 per cent. For comparison, Israeli news website Ynet reported the figure in May was slightly above the 98 per cent mark.
Health chiefs there now claim the jab blocks 64 per cent of infections, compared to 94 per cent in May before the mutant strain took hold. Ministers reportedly described the data ‘disturbing’. But the same statistics showed the jab still protects against serious illness, slashing the risk of being hospitalised by 93 per cent
Pfizer’s Covid vaccine was up to a third less effective against the Indian ‘Delta’ variant, according to data from Israel (stock)
Vaccine gap cut from 12 weeks to eight for EVERY adult as No10 vows to offer two jabs to all over-18s by mid-September
Britons under the age of 40 will be offered their second Covid jab after eight weeks instead of 12.
Boris Johnson claimed the new aim was for all adults to be fully inoculated by mid-September, when coronavirus rates are expected to rise and the NHS grapples with seasonal winter pressures.
Last month, the gap was shortened for older people in a bid to protect millions of the most vulnerable amid the rise of the highly-infectious Indian variant.
The Prime Minister announced the change to the dosing strategy at tonight’s press conference, where he set out plans for a post-lockdown England from July 19.
Ministers are also considering whether to roll out third vaccines for all over-50s, NHS staff, carers and patients with underlying health conditions this autumn.
Oxford University researchers last week showed antibody levels could be restored to their peak with the use of a ‘booster’ vaccine months after the second.
But whether or not this would improve on the already near-100 per cent protection against death that two doses provide is still unknown.
No10 is now wrestling with the moral dilemma of whether to run the booster vaccine programme or send the doses to developing countries where supplies are scarce.
Vaccinating children is another contentious strategy being considered by the Government, with some of its advisers warning that Covid itself is less dangerous to youngsters than a jab.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, an infectious disease expert at the University of Exeter, said the data reflects a normal drop in immunity rates over time.
He told MailOnline: ‘The good news is people are still protected and the vaccines are preventing hospitalisations, so there are lots of positives.’
Professor Andrew Preston, a University of Bath microbiologist, told MailOnline: ‘The important thing is this relatively low value is against transmission of the virus and not deaths as such.
‘We have not had very strong numbers for this sort of protection before, so this is not a startling figure.
‘It means pretty much that the link between infections and serious consequence has been broken, but does not stop someone from catching virus and being able to pass it on.
‘All evidence is that the Delta variant is more infectious, so it’s not much of a surprise that the vaccines have decreased in effectiveness.
‘It does not change the picture that cases will rise as we unlock. The Government has been quite frank that cases will reach very high levels and some people will continue to die.’
Professor Peter Openshaw, an expert in experimental medicine at Imperial College London, told MailOnline the figure were ‘actually rather reassuring’.
He said the fact there was 64 per cent figure against infection was good, given the variant ‘has evolved some immune escape features’.
Israel’s updated figures are in line with real-world data from Britain’s vaccine roll-out, which has saved tens of thousands of lives in the face of the rapidly-spreading Indian variant.
Public Health England (PHE) says two doses of Pfizer jab blocks up to 90 per cent of infections. However, one dose is only thought to be around 35 per cent effective.
But the jab — co-developed by German firm BioNTech — is much more successful at stopping the infected from becoming very ill.
PHE analysis also suggests two doses cut the risk of hospitalisation by at least 90 per cent.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine is also slightly less effective against the Indian variant, which is now dominant in most of England’s 300-plus council.
But the British-made jab — which works slightly different to Pfizer’s — was not used in Israel’s world-beating inoculation drive.
Asked about the Israeli vaccine efficacy figures yesterday, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson dismissed fears that the jabs don’t work as well.
He said: ‘We know based on the latest published evidence… that two doses of Pfizer is highly effective against the Delta Variant.’
Israel (green) saw its cases spike on June 15 after it relaxed remaining rules including a requirement to wear face masks indoors. But ten days later they were reimposed. The UK’s Covid cases are skyrocketing before the last restrictions are lifted (red line)
Britain (red line) and Israel (green line) have both vaccinated around 60 per cent of their population against the virus
But deaths due to the virus have remained flat. Figures from Israel (green line) and the UK (red line) show the vaccines still slash the risk of hospitalisation with the variant
An efficacy figure of 90 per cent does not mean 10 per cent of the public will need medical care if they get infected. Instead, it means inoculated people have a 90 per cent lower risk of being admitted to hospital compared to the unvaccinated.
Israel eased its remaining restrictions in early June, relaxing requirements to wear face masks inside and customer caps on cafes, bars and restaurants.
But indoor coverings were reintroduced just 10 days later amid a spike in infections, with 90 per cent of cases blamed on the Indian variant.
Israel has had one of the world’s fastest vaccination drives. It has already inoculated 57 per cent of the population.
Rising cases have alarmed authorities in the country, which are now offering jabs to all 10 to 19-year-olds in an effort to beat the virus.
There were more than 2,600 infections in the country on Monday, more than double the same time last week. But only 35 of these were in hospital.
This is a fifth of the country’s peak in the darkest days of January, when there were 10,000 cases reported every day.