Corona: One More Time

In the past week Israel was roughly awakened from its post-Corona euphoria and new cases are rapidly spreading through the country, with youngsters being affected more, mostly because they are not (yet) vaccinated.
For a couple of weeks, it appeared that Israel was putting the pandemic behind it and return to a “normal” life. Normal meaning, no more face masks, mass events, movie theaters, and more slowly but insistently, travel abroad, to countries considered safe. At the end of this month it was even planned to allow foreign tourists back into the country on the condition that they are vaccinated. All this is being turned back now, the masks are back, foreign tourists will have to wait at least until August and mass events including cinemas, will be next unless a way can be found to stop the renewed spread of the disease.
The new outbreak is mostly attributed to the so-called Delta Variant (the India mutation) and almost all new cases can be traced back to Israelis returning from abroad and having caught the virus. At this point the spread of the virus still appears localized, with Binyamina and Modi’in as the two main centers but indications are that the virus is spreading rapidly, which is the main characteristic of the Delta variant, its much higher infectivity. Of course, the self-isolation that people were to take upon themselves and which is largely ignored is another reason for the spread, but keeping youngsters in isolation is no easy task.
So how bad is it? At this point it is hard to say but the number of positive tests is increasing and while it was 0.1% and less only two weeks ago, it is now 0.4-0.5%. It is still low but the rise is worrisome. The fact that many Israelis are vaccinated is said to be a big help in the efforts to stop the spread, but there is a lot of confusion regarding this.
No less than 30% of the people that have recently tested positive for the disease were vaccinated. Does this mean that the Pfizer vaccine is not or much less effective against the Delta variant? The comments from the Health ministry are often confusing. We keep hearing that the Pfizer vaccine is (almost) as effective against the delta variant as it is against the others, and that it helps in the prevention of serious cases and complications requiring hospitalization. So, the vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting sick, but you get sick less seriously? Is this supposed to comfort us? The number of 93% effectivity is being thrown around by Pfizer and also in Great Britain they use this number in explaining that, while the virus is spreading rapidly, and number of sick people increases fast, we are still protected. But 93% effective is supposed to mean that 7% of the people coming into contact with the virus get sick, not 30%!
So where is the discrepancy. Here the mathematicians are brought in, experts in statistics, experts in disease control and they show us all kind of theories that should reveal how 30% gets infected while the vaccine is 93% effective. Maybe they are right but the simple fact is that the number of vaccinated people that are getting infected is much higher that might be expected and this is a cause for worry. Of course the Health authorities are worried in particular about the infected people who will get seriously ill and will need hospitalization and intubation. The intense pressure of the past year on the health system earned doctors and nurses the well-deserved (but short-lived) respect of both the population and the health ministry, but going back to such a situation would be disastrous. And maybe if the vaccine causes the disease to be less virulent maybe we should be grateful.
Another confusing issue that was brought up again now that the virus is back, is the so-called “herd immunity”. The principle of herd immunity says that if sufficient people are vaccinated (or have recovered from the disease) the spread of the virus is sufficiently stymied that the disease will fade. Today, experts in Israel tell us that we are about 700,000 vaccinated people short of herd immunity. Again, the reasoning behind this figure is not for simple souls to understand but even with the vaccination drive in Israel considered a success, apparently the large number of vaccinated people still missing is a difficult hurdle to take. Even with the vaccination of all 12-15 year olds, we will not even get close to the required additional vaccinations and a large number of the “Anti-Vaxxers” will have to be persuaded to get vaccinated, which is not a realistic scenario.
And such herd immunity, does this include the spread of the virus without causing serious illness? Or would it prevent completely the possibility of catching the disease?
It would be helpful to many if the Health Ministry would make a little more effort in explaining the situation, both with regard to the effectiveness of the virus and the herd immunity and it possible advantages. It would help convince people who are still hesitating to go and get the shots.
In the end it appears that the Corona virus is here to stay. It will probably involve a yearly vaccination but, unless a more virulent variant will emerge (which is always a possibility) we will have to learn to live with it like we learned to live with the flu. Some people take a flu shot, some don’t, some get the flu and recover, some don’t. In the end the Corona will be just another challenge that humans have to deal with to the best of their ability. And in the meantime, lets prepare for the (unavoidable) next pandemic.

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