Israeli experts: Little known about how COVID ‘4th wave’ will develop

It “seems” the vaccine works against the Delta variant although people with high levels of antibodies have contracted it, Dr. Asher Shalmon of the Health Ministry told World Israel News. 

By Meira Svirsky, World Israel News

Despite Sunday’s rollout of a third vaccine for the elderly population, health officials in Israel are apparently operating with many uncertainties in trying to formulate a strategy to fight the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus.

In a candid conversation with journalists on Sunday, the Health Ministry’s director of International Relations, Dr. Asher Shalmon, stressed that despite what he called the ongoing “escalation” of the Delta variant in Israel, little is known about how the current “4th Wave” will develop.

Speaking to World Israel News, Shalmon said that according to data collected from around the world, it “seems” the vaccine does work against the variant. Yet he acknowledged that even individuals with high levels of antibodies have contracted it while some with low- or medium-level antibodies have not, and that scientists do not know why.

In addition, he said that currently, there is no sufficient data as to the level of antibodies one must have to fight off the variant.

“It seems that vaccines are not sufficient to give a high protective level for a very long time without maybe having a third dose.”

Shalmon said that because the level of antibodies in vaccinated people fades over time, the country is facing a major wave of vaccinated people contracting the disease, and the older a person is, the more likely he or she is likely to contract a severe case of the virus.

Currently, the government is relying on a four-fold strategy, Shalmon said: Vaccinating the elderly with a third dose, the reinstitution of the Green Pass, the requirement of a “Happy Badge” to gain entrance to events with over 100 people, and more restrictions on international travel.

The government is also discussing further restrictions on international travel, Shalmon noted. “We [are] seeing a worrying number of cases from people traveling back,” he said.

According to Health Ministry statistics, 23 people were listed in serious condition on June 30. That number jumped to 151 as of July 29. In the same period, daily diagnosed cases jumped from 310 to over 2,000 beginning last Monday.

Yet, deaths on average have remained at one per day during the same 30-day period.

Calling the current number of daily diagnosed cases “relatively low,” Shalmon said that the health care system is currently not in danger of being overtaxed. “[This] allows the government some flexibility in taking the proper measures that we need at this point” and for the economy to remain open and social functions allowed to happen.

When asked about future measures that the government may take, Shalmon said, “There is no ‘Plan A Plan B.’ It’s an escalating situation,” in which other steps, depending on the circumstances, may have to be taken.

However, in the UK, where 70% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and where booster shots have not been given, officials are hopeful that the surge in cases due to the Delta variant has peaked. The number of new cases there has gone down steadily since July 21 and is now half of that 10 days ago. Deaths have also been extremely low during the surge with only 14 recorded on July 26.

Experts have suggested that the UK is two weeks ahead of Israel in terms of the effect of the Delta variant on the population.