An Israeli study has raised questions about the ability of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to protect against one variant of the coronavirus.
The study found the South African variant — B.1.351 –is better able to infect those vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine than unvaccinated individuals. The findings suggest the variant is more adept at working around the Pfizer vaccine compared to other variants, according to the Times of Israel.
The real-world study was of vital importance for Israel, which is not only a global leader in vaccinations, but has also used the Pfizer vaccine “almost exclusively” to inoculate millions of people.
The study from Tel Aviv University and the Clalit healthcare organization examined Israelis who, despite being vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19.
Professor Adi Stern, who lead the research, said the South African variant, unlike the original strain of the virus and a British variant, “is able to break through the vaccine’s protection.”
“We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection,” Stern said, according to Reuters.
However, she added the sample size was too small to quantify the risk.
“We can say it’s less effective, but more research is needed to establish exactly how much,” she said.
According to Reuters, the study compared 400 COVID-positive patients who received one or both doses of the vaccine at least 14 days prior to the same number of unvaccinated COVID-positive patients.
“The South African variant, B.1.351, was found to make up about 1% of all the COVID-19 cases across all the people studied,” the outlet reported. “But among patients who had received two doses of the vaccine, the variant’s prevalence rate was eight times higher than those unvaccinated – 5.4% versus 0.7%.”
Professor Ran Balicer, director of research at Clalit, told The Times of Israel the study “is the first in the world to be based on real-world data, showing that the vaccine is less effective against the South African variant, compared to both the original virus and the British variant.”
Balicer said the study means now-standard precautions against the virus can’t be relaxed after vaccination.
“These preliminary findings necessitates close continued attention to the dissemination of this strain in Israel, emphasizing the need for epidemiological monitoring and systematic sequencing, in order to contain further spread of the South African variant in Israel,” he said.
The Israeli research contrasts with a study done by Pfizer and BioNTech. The study found its vaccine was 100 percent effective against COVID among 800 patients in South Africa, where the strain of the virus is prominent.
Stern said the South African variant is rare, according to The Times of Israel.
She indicated that could be caused in part by a wave of the British variant of the virus that swept through Israel earlier this year.
“It is possible that the extensive spread of the British variant is blocking the spread of the South African variant,” she said. “Because it spread so effectively, it basically didn’t allow the South African variant to spread — it won the competition.”
Stern said the bottom line was a mixed bag.
The South African variant “can break through the vaccine, but it cannot spread efficiently, so that is the good news,” Stern said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
She said caution is needed to keep the variant out of Israel.
Israel “has to be super careful about airports,” Stern said. “We are in a unique position in Israel now. The vaccines are working, and amazingly, we are the only country in the world where life is going back to normal. The main threat now is what will happen through airport importations.”
According to conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, the findings need to be taken with a grain of salt, as the study only looked at people who tested positive for the coronavirus.
1. For the 99.9%+ of the population who apparently didn’t get covid, Pfizer was apparently protective against all strains.
2. The study itself didn’t say whether any of those with the S. African variant got sick or died. Which would be the key issue.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) April 12, 2021
“1. For the 99.9%+ of the population who apparently didn’t get covid, Pfizer was apparently protective against all strains,” he tweeted.
“2. The study itself didn’t say whether any of those with the S. African variant got sick or died. Which would be the key issue.”
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