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Israel study finds Pfizer vaccine 95% effective, even against 'British' variant

A new study in Israel found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is more than 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death after two doses, even against at least one new variant. File photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI
A new study in Israel found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is more than 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death after two doses, even against at least one new variant. File photo by Aaron Josefczyk/UPI | License Photo

May 5 (UPI) -- People fully vaccinated with the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot are more than 95% protected against infection, hospitalization, severe illness and death from the disease, even if they are sickened with the so-called "British" variant, a study published Wednesday by The Lancet found.

Vaccine recipients in Israel from late December through early April were found to have 97% protection against illness with symptoms and 92% protection against asymptomatic or mild infection, the data showed.

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At the time the research was conducted, the B.1.1.7 strain, which was first detected in England last September, was present in 95% of virus samples tested.

"This data from Israel confirms ... protection [of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine] against B.1.1.7 with real-world evidence," infectious disease specialist Dr. Stanley H. Weiss told UPI Wednesday by email.

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"The results from this study are highly relevant to the United States, as [the variant] has become predominant in many regions [here] and other variants are showing up," said Weiss, an epidemiologist at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark. He was not part of the Israel study, but has been tracking its progress.

Israel began to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December during a surge of infections that led to a national lockdown Dec. 27, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

At the peak of the surge, the country saw, on average, just over 10,000 new cases per day and there were more than 232,000 new infections nationwide before the lockdown restrictions were lifted on March 7. Two-thirds of the cases were in people age 16 years and older, officials said.

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Nearly 7,700 of these new cases required hospital care and more than 1,100 of those infected died from the disease.

For this analysis, ministry researchers analyzed vaccine efficacy among recipients in groups, based on the age of those who received the shot, and tracked their infection status for about 50 days.

From the start of its national vaccination program through April 3, 72% of all people age 16 and older and 90% of those age 65 and older in Israel had received two doses of the vaccine, according to the Ministry of Health.

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Among recipients, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provided 95% protection against infection and 97% protection against death seven days after they received the second dose.

The vaccine was also 97% effective at preventing hospitalization, or severe, life-threatening illness, following infection.

From 14 days following receipt of the second dose, the vaccine provided 97% protection against infection and 98% protection against hospitalization and death, the data showed.

The analysis, based on national data for Israel, also indicates that widespread vaccination of the general public helps drive down new infections by more than 40%, according to the researchers.

The country's infection rate peaked at about 55 cases per 100,000 people in the general population by mid-January, but had declined by Feb. 7, or less than two months into the vaccination program, to 30 cases per 100,000, they said.

"These data are consistent with findings by others [that] the second shot serves as a critical booster," Weiss said.

"The level of protection afforded by natural infection on the average is the same or less than one vaccine dose," he said.

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