There’s Some Good News about Pfizer’s Covid-19 Vaccine

Studies from the world leader in Covid-19 vaccination give a reason for cautious optimism

Photo: Steven Cornfield /Unsplash

The question left unanswered

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine trials were good, extremely good even, but partial. The participants who received the vaccine during the Phase 3 trial were analyzed based on symptoms, or lack thereof, and not regularly checked for the presence of Covid-19.

This left a major question unanswered: Does the vaccine only protect against a severe disease with symptoms, or does it fully protect against the possibility to get infected and as a result prevents those who were vaccinated from infecting others?

Some argued that without this answer, the data is not complete. Experts agreed that further testing is needed. In order to start receiving any answers two main conditions needed to be met:

  1. Enough time had to pass in order to get a better perspective.
  2. More people needed to get the vaccine in order for the data to be more accurate and suited for “real-world” use.

While there are still no definite answers, and more testing is still needed, one country reached these two milestones, and while being the world leader in vaccination rate, has also conducted thorough research on the vaccine’s effects. The indications coming from these studies are fascinating and carry more than a glimpse of optimism.

Israel is way ahead in its vaccination campaign with almost 20% of its population vaccinated in less than a month. Photo: OurWorldInData

Israel started its vaccination campaign on December 19 with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being the first Israeli to be vaccinated. Since then, the country has been moving forward at record-breaking speed. In less than a month (written on January 12), 1,910,330 Israelis received the vaccine, meaning 22.1% of the whole population.

This allowed Israel to conduct a few studies with hundreds of thousands of participants and reach some important conclusions that, while needs to be further tested, can teach us greatly about the Covid-19 vaccine.

Is one dose good enough?

Currently, there are 1,090 Covid-19 patients in Israel who are hospitalized with severe or critical symptoms. Sharon Alroy-Preis, MD, MPH, the head of public health services at the Ministry of Health, reported that 17% of those 1,090 patients are people who have already received the first vaccine dose before being admitted to the hospital.

“This highlights the importance of receiving the second dose which drastically raises the efficiency of the vaccine,” Preis added. “We see that it takes time from the moment of vaccination and until the body is somewhat protected.”

Does the vaccine protect against infection?

In an ongoing study, Maccabi Health Services and KSM research center, studied the first 430,000 people who were vaccinated at their nation-wide vaccination centers.

They checked the group’s infection rates in the first few days since receiving the first dose, and then checked infection rates within the group 13 days after the first dose was given. The researchers found that on day 13, infection rates drop by 60% compared to those in the early days after the vaccine was given.

A second ongoing study is being conducted by Clalit Health Services and its research center. In this study, 400,000 participants were tested — half of which received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, while the other half didn’t get a vaccine at all.

The first five to 12 days had no effect in terms of protection. The researchers saw a similar rate of infection between the two groups. However, in this study, day 13 saw a slight change while day 14 brought a drop of 33% in infections for the vaccinated group compared to their unvaccinated counterparts.

What does that mean?

Most importantly, this is the first indication that the vaccine prevents infection and not only symptoms, even if only to a certain extent.

While the first few days after receiving the first dose seem to have no effect at all, the studies mark the days 13 and 14 as the tipping point in which the body creates a certain level of protection against the virus.

A 60% drop in infections compared to the early days after the first dose, and a 33% drop in infections compared to a group that wasn’t vaccinated at all is an optimistic prospect. And yet, it is important to note that some of the participants were infected even after day 13 mark.

“These are initial indicators but they are certainly uplifting,” says Prof. Ran Balicer head of Clalit research. “And yet, the first dose doesn't give full protection in any case. People who received the first dose would still need to wear a mask and maintain social distancing.”

These studies continue, and further information will be available as the Israeli vaccination campaign progresses. Starting December 12, those aged 55 were added as eligible to receive the vaccine in Israel. Other countries are still vaccinating those aged over 80.

And yet another conclusion from the Israeli example is that even with a speedy vaccination campaign there is still a hard-fought battle. Israel saw a record 9,589 daily cases on December 12, the highest number since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 300 people are currently in a life-threatening condition overcrowding the hospitals.

It’s not only our bodies that take time building up a protective shield against the virus following a vaccine, it’s also our nations. Alongside the attempt to vaccinate as many people as fast as possible, there will still be hard times in the foreseeable future.

I love writing about what I love. Journalist. Always curious. Israeli born, London based. Father, Husband, and a dog person.

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