Warning issued over South African variant

Concerns exist over efficacy of Pfizer vaccine against the strain


An Israeli health official raised concern that the South African coronavirus variant has “gotten out of control”.

Shmuel Ohayon from the Ministry of Health’s coronavirus information centre told Haaretz: “Most of the infections have spread within the family, in social gatherings and random meetings.

“Over 20 per cent of newly confirmed cases of residents of Taibeh are carriers of the variant.”

He added that this likely meant carriers of the variant numbered in the hundreds and that the situation has “gotten out of control and we need to think epidemiologically how to handle it, and whether it’s still possible at this stage.”

The newspaper also cited data showing that over 450 cases had been diagnosed in Israel, and that efforts to control the spread, including shutting Israel’s airways, have brought “little results”.

It followed news that Israel planned to partially re-open Ben Guiron airport to up to 3,000 Israeli travellers a day on select flights.

A late February study by the ministry concluded that about 1 per cent of all positive test results in Israel were the South African variant, though “there are certain segments of the population where the ratio may even be higher.”

The data came from 3,000 Covid-19 positive samples collected in a “nationwide spread” since the end of January.

Israel has now administered at least one dose of the vaccine to over 96 per cent of its eligible population.

There have been varied reports about the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine against the South African strain, with one suggesting it could reduce protective antibodies by two thirds.

Phil Dormitzer, a Pfizer vaccine scientist who co-authoured the study, was not alarmed.

He told Reuters: “A level of neutralizing antibodies that may be on the order of between a third and a half the level of neutralizing antibodies you see against the original virus does not mean you have only a third to half of the protection level, you may well have full protection.”

He also said the company was developing a booster shot specifically targeted at the South African strain.

Pfizer was in discussion with regulators mid-February about testing the new formulation.

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