Israel struggles with mutated strains despite world-beating vaccination drive

Neither vaccines nor lockdowns appears to be taming the spread of the coronavirus in Israel.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Israel has vaccinated nearly 30% of its population in 5 1/2 weeks, an achievement that has the world racing to learn its methods. Yet, it can’t seem to keep the contagion under control as new mutations spread rapidly.

Israel reported 7,756 cases yesterday. The number of cases has shot up since the end of November when they hovered in the 700s. The positive test rate – 9.6% out of 83,000 tests – is also the highest it’s been in months.

Israel imposed a tight lockdown three weeks ago. It virtually completely shuttered its airport for a week starting Jan. 25. The moves have not yet improved the numbers as hopeful signs of a decrease last week proved premature. They also defy Israel’s health experts who said the lockdown’s effects would start to show up this week.

The cabinet was to debate an extension of the lockdown on Wednesday but a difference of opinion between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have delayed it. Website N12 reports estimations are the lockdown will be extended for four days, a compromise over the additional week health officials had sought.

It is not clear if the airport’s closure, what Netanyahu called a hermetic seal on the state, was succeeding in keeping out dangerous new strains of the disease. Walla news reports on Wednesday that the South African variant, particularly worrisome as it might be able to evade the vaccine, was found in three Israelis during random tests. It was the first time the strain had been found among Israelis who hadn’t returned from abroad.

Adding to the struggle is the higher proportion of critically ill corona patients in this wave of the pandemic.

Dr. Edward Keikov, director of the coronavirus geriatrics department at the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, told N12 on Tuesday:

“What characterizes this wave is that patients arrive in a more difficult situation. In the first and second wave we saw an improvement in the condition of the hospitalized within about seven days of treatment. Now, after 10-14 days, there is a sudden deterioration that includes severe lung disease and systemic collapse.”

Also among the worrisome changes is the virus’s effect on pregnant women, a phenomenon not seen in previous waves. Israel now recommends that pregnant women take the vaccine, contradicting the World Health Organization’s recommendation.