Pfizer vaccine ‘95% effective against coronavirus,’ real-world data from Israel shows

Figures provide positive world-first look at jab’s effectiveness on a nationwide scale

Sam Hancock
Thursday 06 May 2021 00:22 BST
People relax at a beach bar in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on 19 April after authorities announced face masks were no longer needed outside
People relax at a beach bar in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on 19 April after authorities announced face masks were no longer needed outside

Two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can provide more than 95 per cent protection against infection, severe illness and death from Covid, according to a groundbreaking study in Israel.

The middle eastern country currently leads the world in its inoculation programme, with more than half (56 per cent) of its population having already received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Back in January, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal with Pfizer to send in-depth statistical results data in exchange for hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses a week.

It has allowed experts to assess the jab’s effectiveness, on a large-scale nationwide basis, and garner real-world results outside of medical trial conditions.

The research, published today in The Lancet journal, also concluded that a single dose of the jab provides 58 per cent protection against infection, 76 per cent against hospital admission, and 77 per cent against death.

New cases of Covid have dropped dramatically since the country’s vaccination rollout began, from a peak of more than 10,000 a day in January to a few hundred in March when lockdown was lifted.

Israel’s economy has since almost fully reopened, with people regularly attending sporting events and concerts as restrictions on outdoor crowds continue to loosen.

The researchers said their study highlights the importance of fully vaccinating adults against the virus but acknowledged challenges remain to get the pandemic under control – including uncertainty around how long immunity lasts, from both vaccines and natural infection, and the emergence of variants that may be resistant to jabs currently on the market.

Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis, its lead author from the Israeli ministry of health, said: “As the country with the highest proportion of its population vaccinated against Covid-19, Israel provides a unique real-world opportunity to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine and to observe wider effects of the vaccination programme on public health.

“Until this point, no country in the world had described the national public health impact of a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign.”

She added: “These insights are hugely important because, while there are still some considerable challenges to overcome, they offer real hope that Covid-19 vaccination will eventually enable us to control the pandemic.”

For the study, scientists analysed the country’s national pandemic surveillance data between 24 January and 3 April 2021 – during which time the Kent variant, or UK variant as it is known internationally, accounted for a “vast majority” of infections in the country.

By 2 April in Israel, 72 per cent of people aged 16 and over, and 90 per cent of 65-and-overs, had received both doses of the Pfizer jab and so were considered as fully protected as they can be against the virus.

People embrace on the promenade in Tel Aviv as Covid restrictions continue to ease

Results showed that for all people over the age of 16, the vaccine provided 96.5 per cent protection against infection, 98 per cent protection against hospital admissions and 98.1 per cent protection against death, 14 days after the second dose.

Protections among the elderly were as strong as those for younger people, the researchers said, with those over 85 getting 94.1 per cent protection against infection, 96.9 per cent against hospital admission, and 97 per cent against death, a week after receiving their second dose.

Daily infections in Israel were also shown to decline as more people received their jabs, pointing to the importance of mass vaccination in the global eradication of coronavirus.

Commenting on the research, Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said the new data from Israel confirms that the Pfizer vaccine “provides very high protection from serious Covid-19 disease and death – even in older more vulnerable people”.

“Importantly, the study shows that two doses of the vaccine significantly increase levels of immunity and protection,” he told the PA news agency.

“This is why it is important that people get both doses, and if UK vaccine policy changes, to get a third dose if offered in the autumn.”

Meanwhile Dr Luis Jodar, Pfizer’s senior vice president and chief medical officer of vaccines, warned more data about the effectiveness of vaccines is “needed urgently”.

“Research examining long-term vaccine effectiveness will ultimately play a vital role in tackling the pandemic,” he said.

Additional reporting by PA

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