Israel vaccinated 80% of adults, cases drop to 15 per day
- Israel lifted some of its latest COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday as new cases fell to 15 a day.
- Some experts believe Israel has achieved herd immunity by vaccinating 80% of adults.
- But international travelers could still introduce the virus, despite Israel’s strict travel restrictions.
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As the United States scrambles to get people to get vaccinated, Israel is reaping the rewards of its successful vaccine rollout: The country reported just 15 new cases of the coronavirus daily, on average, last week – its lowest number in over a year.
The decline in infections has been so encouraging that Israel lifted some of its latest coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday. Businesses can now operate at full capacity and residents no longer have to prove they have been vaccinated to enter restaurants, sporting events or places of entertainment.
Even before the new rule, schools in Israel were fully open, masks were no longer required outside, and mass rallies were held across the country. Now Israel’s only obstacle to a normal life is the requirement to wear masks in indoor public spaces – a rule that could be lifted as early as next week, according to Israeli health officials.
“This is probably the end of COVID in Israel, at least as far as the current strains we know,” Dr Eyal Zimlichman, deputy director general of Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, told Insider. . “We have obviously achieved collective immunity.”
Scientists had previously estimated that to achieve herd immunity – the threshold beyond which the virus cannot easily pass from person to person – countries would need to fully immunize 70% to 85% of their residents. But so far, Israel has only vaccinated 60% of its citizens, or about 80% of its adult population. Vaccines are not yet authorized for those under 16.
It’s a sign that other countries could beat their epidemics with similar immunization levels, Zimlichman said. He estimated that around 70% of Israeli citizens are now immune to the virus, either through vaccines or through natural infection.
“We now know for sure that this number is sufficient to create collective immunity,” he said.
Israeli vaccine passport created incentive
Experts hope the United States will follow Israel’s path: the nation has fully vaccinated 52% of adults and 41% of total residents so far.
But an April poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 13% of Americans never plan to be vaccinated, while 15% are still waiting to make up their minds. Another 6% said they would only get the vaccine if injections were needed for work, school or other activities.
“I’m optimistic about reaching 60%, but reported daily doses have been declining since about mid-April,” Jorge Alfaro-Murillo, associate researcher at the Yale School of Public Health, told Insider. “The first people to get the vaccine will of course be those most willing to take it. “
The United States immunizes less than 1.2 million people per day, on average, up from 3.3 million at its peak in mid-April. States are now encouraging people to get vaccinated by offering lottery tickets, vacations or cash prizes.
Israel took a different approach to vaccination incentives: its Green Pass system allowed people to enter restaurants, sporting events, museums, gyms and hotels only if they presented proof of vaccination or a test. COVID-19 negative.
“Life just got a lot easier for you if you were vaccinated and that was another incentive for people,” Zimlichman said. “They didn’t want to feel like second level citizens.”
None of this has been true in the Palestinian territories, however. Less than 5% of the Palestinian population has been fully immunized. (Palestinians in East Jerusalem have access to Israeli health insurance, but this does not extend to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.)
Several human rights organizations have called on Israel to immediately vaccinate the Palestinians.
“In Palestinian communities, if they don’t vaccinate as much and a new strain emerges that may escape vaccine protection, then that will be a big problem,” Alfaro-Murillo said.
Mass rallies in Israel put vaccines to the test
Israel’s vaccination campaign has already effectively ended.
“We don’t see more people getting vaccinated – it’s pretty rare at this point,” Zimlichman said. “Those who wanted to be vaccinated had more than enough opportunities at all ages from 16 years old.”
Today, the country’s vaccination rate is being tested by mass rallies.
At the end of April, tens of thousands of Israelis gathered in the Galilee for Lag BaOmer, a Jewish holiday – the largest public gathering in Israel since the start of the pandemic. A stampede at the event killed dozens and left around 150 people hospitalized.
Then last month, scores of Israelis gathered in bomb shelters amid the fierce clashes between Israel and Gaza.
Meanwhile, infections continued to drop: Average weekly coronavirus cases in Israel fell by 80% last month.
“If you came to Israel, it would feel like it’s a country that doesn’t have COVID,” Eyal Leshem, infectious disease specialist at Sheba Medical Center, told Insider.
Israel is still closed to most travelers
Part of Israel’s success may be linked to the country’s strict travel restrictions. It is still closed to most tourists, and inbound travelers are required to self-quarantine for two weeks and then take a COVID-19 test on their ninth day in the country.
Israeli citizens must obtain special permission to travel to nine countries with high infection rates or where variants of the coronavirus are widely spread: Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Turkey and Ukraine .
The United States, on the other hand, simply recommends that Americans avoid countries with high transmission. Residents are allowed to re-enter the United States with a negative COVID-19 test. Fully vaccinated Americans do not have to self-quarantine after returning home.
“We are a lot bigger than Israel and we also have a lot more people coming in and out of the country,” Alfaro-Murillo said. “I don’t feel like this will be over until the whole world is where Israel is right now.”