Israel’s Covid rate hits three-month low as booster shots take effect

Expert warns still too early to say if fourth wave has ended despite fall in infections

Israel’s Covid-19 infection rate has hit a three-month low, indicating that the country’s decision to offer booster shots to all adults is beginning to pay off.

Israel continues to be the canary in the coalmine when it comes to combatting the pandemic and health experts from around the world are closely monitoring the impact of the third vaccination.

This week the R number – the average number of people each Covid-19 carrier infects – has shown a steady decline, falling on Thursday to a three-month low of 0.83, according to health ministry data.

The last time the R number dropped below 1 was in early June, before the Delta variant started spreading, leading to Israel’s fourth wave of infections.

By Thursday morning, 2,690,387 Israelis – nearly 29 per cent of the total population – had received a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine, the only vaccine used in Israel to date. Among those aged 60 and over, that number jumps to some 71 per cent.

Pfizer reports its two-dose vaccine efficacy falls from 96 per cent to 84 per cent after six months and a study by Israel’s Maccabi healthcare provider found that a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine was found to be 86 per cent effective in people aged over 60.

Professor Doron Gazit, a member of the Hebrew university of Jerusalem’s expert panel on the pandemic, attributed the drop in infections to the vaccine booster shot, saying that hospitalisations among high-risk groups are going down.

He added that a rapid testing campaign for schools, which reopened on September 1st, also helped in early detection and stopping the spread of the virus.

“The trend of the current infection wave being on its way down is continuing,” he said. “The daily rise in serious cases is going down and our predictions are showing that this pace will continue.”

Professor Ran Balicer, who heads a panel of medical professionals advising the health ministry on the pandemic, cautioned that it was still too early to say whether the fourth wave has ended.

Conspiracy theories

In stark contrast to Israel's vaccine rollout, the situation for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza remains dire.

Palestinians have by now received millions of doses, but conspiracy theories and disinformation persist, making it difficult for health authorities to persuade people to get vaccinated.

Only 655,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and 220,000 in the Gaza Strip have had at least one vaccine dose, accounting for 37 per cent of eligible West Bank residents and about 18 per cent in Gaza.

Following a recent rise in Covid-19 cases and deaths, Palestinian health minister Mai Al-Kaila warned of a fourth wave across the Palestinian territories.