Did vaccines prevent 20,000 COVID deaths in Israel?

After 8,300 deaths, Professor Itamar Grotto says death toll would have been three times greater without vaccines.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

Former Health Ministry deputy director Professor Itamar Grotto announced on Sunday that Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine has saved some 20,000 Israeli lives and that the death toll in the Jewish state would have reached 30,000 (rather than the some 8,300 where it currently stands) had it not been for the jabs.

After three lockdowns, a blanket ban on foreign tourists lasting nearly 18 months, and widespread vaccine mandates alongside a digital COVID passport system restricting entry for unvaccinated people to leisure venues, Israel is leading the world in the number of per capita daily infections.

Israel has signaled that it appears ready to abandon some of these hardline policies,. Their epidemiological necessity has come into question, as the vaccine seems to be ineffective at stopping new infections and spread of the Omicron strain.

But according to Grotto, the reason Omicron is not devastating Israel’s population has nothing to do with the variant causing milder illness; rather, it’s because so many Israelis are vaccinated.

“Certain sections of the public and even among the experts now watching the Omicron wave claim that this is proof that it is a mild disease ‘like the flu’, but this is a false claim, because it does not take into account the important effect of the vaccine, which prevents serious illness and large-scale mortality even now in the face of the Omicron wave,” he wrote in his report.

According to European Center for Disease Control (ECDC) data, which includes data from Israel, 90 percent of the deaths of unvaccinated people attributed to COVID occurred in people over the age of 60.

The ECDC “found that the mortality prevention rates [in the over-60 age group] from the vaccines are 60 percent after one dose and 95 percent after two doses,” Grotto wrote.

Between December 2020 — the beginning of vaccinations in Israel and abroad — and November 2021, Israel ranked third in the number of deaths avoided as a result of vaccinations, and 15,662 deaths were prevented during this period in Israel, he added.

“During this period, 3,972 people over the age of 60 died in Israel, and without the vaccines, 19,634 people would have died in Israel.”

The findings come as a widely hailed fourth coronavirus jab roll-out has been disappointing, with researchers from Sheba Medical Center finding that the second booster shot does not create a significant amount of antibodies effective against the Omicron strain.

Grotto, who was widely mocked for saying during the first lockdown that residents should not be allowed to leave their homes in order to purchase food and other essential supplies and that the army should instead deliver “battlefield meals” to each citizen, resigned from the Health Ministry just eight months after the pandemic reached Israel.

He recently appeared on the second season of the Israeli reality TV show “The Masked Singer,” in which he appeared in a costume dressed as a giant green bean and sang to a live audience while his identity was hidden.

He was the first contestant eliminated from the show.