Vaccines Saving the Day in Israel

Every Sunday, Metropole brings you a COVID-19 update from Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer, an Austrian virologist who works and teaches at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer has been writing weekly updates in German for family and friends. Metropole was kindly granted the permission to translate and publish these updates.

February 21, 2021

Here’s the weekly update again. Worldwide, there have been nearly 112 million official SARS-CoV-2 infected and 2,473,000 official COVID-19 deaths to date. 202 million doses of vaccine have been administered to date. Globally, the number of new infected people per day continues to go down.

Stable but High Numbers in Europe

In Europe, not much is happening. Most countries are at a fairly stable but too high level. In some countries, such as Poland, Czechia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Hungary and Austria, there is a slight upward trend in cases. But there are also very positive developments. Portugal came down from a high wave very quickly.

Denmark and Croatia are basically down to case numbers that these countries had at the end of August and the beginning of September, respectively. Let’s see how that continues in Europe. In Austria, the increased case numbers are very likely due to the relaxations. The question here now is whether there will be another wave or whether the cases will simply settle at a somewhat higher level.

Downward Trend in the US

In the US, the downward trend has also continued, although I suspect that the case numbers will also settle at too high a level here. New York is following the same downward trend, but not as fast as I would like. Canada also seems to be leveling off at high levels. Mexico’s case numbers continue to go down, and Brazil’s slight downward trend has not continued. Most countries in Latin America have either stable or declining case numbers at the moment.

By the way, South America should be watched closely now, because it will be autumn soon and the assumption is that SARS-CoV-2 causes more problems in the cold season. By the way, Chile is the South American vaccination champion at the moment, they have vaccinated about 15% of their population at least once.

The situation in Asia can be described as “boring,” in a positive sense. In India, there is a slight upward trend. Everything else is either stable or very low anyway. Australia, which has basically eradicated the virus in the country, has started vaccinating. They can now calmly vaccinate their 25 million inhabitants.

Upward Trend in the Middle East & North Africa

In the Middle East and North Africa, cases are going up in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, the Emirates, etc., but in many other countries the situation is stable and in Israel it is going down. Africa looks quite unchanged. South Africa has everything under control again, in some countries there are waves (Senegal, Mozambique, Ivory Coast, Zambia, Namibia etc.) but not to the extent as in Europe or America.

The Case of Israel

I will now go back to Israel, regarding vaccinations. They have now, in a real masterstroke, vaccinated 47% of their population at least once, and 32% twice. And you can see, of course, a very strong effect by now. Maybe not so much in terms of the total number of cases in the population (yes, they are also going down), but in terms of severe cases and death rates of old people (who were vaccinated first) the difference is now well visible.

And of course, in Israel, you can also see how well the vaccines work in the population (i.e., outside of a controlled Phase III study). A study that came out this week in The Lancet shows that the effectiveness* of the Pfizer vaccine 15-28 days after the first dose (i.e. before you get the second dose) is between 75% and 85% for disease and 60%-75% for infection (including asymptomatic infections). After ONE dose.

In the media (yes, this is not yet a scientific publication), data from the Israeli Ministry of Health have now also been described, stating that the Pfizer vaccine in Israel has a 99.2% effectiveness against severe cases after TWO doses; it protects with 92% against diseases and about 89% against infections.

Israel also gives more freedoms to vaccinated people and/or persons who already had an infection now. A green identity card permits the attendance of theaters, concerts, sport meetings, bars etc… In Austria, by the way, about half a million people (5.6%) have now been vaccinated at least once … After all the mayors have been vaccinated, it now seems to be going a bit faster (sorry, couldn’t help myself with the joke).

Risk Reduction

But what is also very, very, very important here: Vaccination is a risk reduction, not an absolute protection (the efficiency is not 100%). There will be cases where people get sick with COVID-19 despite vaccination. This is rare, but it can happen, especially if there is still a lot of virus circulating in the population. And these cases will probably be blown out of proportion quite a bit in the media. But one should not be unsettled by this. As you can see in Israel, the protection through the vaccination is very good.

That’s it for this week.

Stay healthy!

*For all who are interested: We distinguish between vaccine efficacy and vaccine effectiveness.  Vaccine efficacy is measured in controlled phase III trials, vaccine effectiveness comes from observational studies when the vaccine is then used in the population. Usually, efficiency is higher than effectiveness.

Prof. Dr. Florian Krammer
Prof. Krammer is the Principal Investigator of the Sinai-Emory Multi-Institutional Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Center (SEM-CIVIC). Currently Prof. Krammer holds a position as a Professor of Vaccinology at the Department of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. He has published more than 100 papers, is member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Virology, Plos One and Heliyon and is a peer reviewer for more than 30 journals.

Numbers

For current numbers, check the website of Ministry of Health and the AGES dashboard.

Resources

The City of Vienna has compiled comprehensive information on questions and answers regarding coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease in English.

The Austrian Ministry of Health has put together FAQs on the coronavirus and also provides material to download on how to protect yourself and others from the disease, also in English.

Furthermore, the ministry will constantly update its German-language website with information on the number of people tested and cases of COVID-19 in Austria.

Hotlines

Health advice by telephone1450

If you show symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties) or fear that you are ill, stay at home and dial health number 1450 for further procedures (diagnostic clarification).

Coronavirus hotline AGES+43 0800 555 621

The Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES) answers questions about the coronavirus (general information on transmission, symptoms, prevention) 24 hours a day at +43 0800 555 621.

VKI hotline for travel law questions+43 0800 201 211

For legal questions concerning trips that have already been booked (e.g. whether a trip can be cancelled free of charge), the experts of the Association for Consumer Information (VKI) provide advice free of charge from Monday to Sunday between 09:00 and 15:00 at +43 0800 201 211.