3/3 © Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Nuns queue in front of a newly opened center that administers vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in a neighborhood with a high residence of foreign nationals, including migrant workers, in Tel Aviv 2/3
By Maayan Lubell JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa may ‘break’ the Pfizer / BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to some extent, a study of real-world data in Israel found, although its prevalence in the country is low and the research has not been peer reviewed. The study, published Saturday, compared nearly 400 people who tested positive for COVID-19, 14 days or more after receiving one or two doses of the vaccine, with the same number of patients not vaccinated with the disease. It coincided with age and sex, among other characteristics. The South African variant, B.1.351, was found to account for about 1% of all COVID-19 cases in all people studied, according to the study by Tel Aviv University and Israel’s largest healthcare provider, Clalit. But among patients who had received two doses of the vaccine, the prevalence rate of the variant was eight times that of the unvaccinated: 5.4% versus 0.7%. This suggests that the vaccine is less effective against the South African variant, compared to the parent coronavirus and a variant first identified in Britain that has come to understand nearly all COVID-19 cases in Israel, the researchers said. “We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant is capable, to some extent, of breaking the protection of the vaccine.” said Tel. Adi Stern of the University of Aviv. However, the researchers cautioned that the study only had a small sample of people infected with the South African variant due to its rarity in Israel. They also said the research was not intended to infer the vaccine’s overall effectiveness against any variant, as it only looked at people who had already tested positive for COVID-19, not overall infection rates. Pfizer (NYSE 🙂 and BioNTech could not immediately be reached for comment outside of business hours. The companies said on April 1 that their vaccine was about 91% effective in preventing COVID-19, citing data from updated trials that included participants inoculated for up to six months. Regarding the South African variant, they said that among a group of 800 study volunteers in South Africa, where B.1.351 is widespread, there were nine cases of COVID-19, all of which occurred among participants who received the placebo. Of those nine cases, six corresponded to people infected with the South African variant. Previous studies have indicated that the Pfizer / BioNTech injection was less potent against variant B.1.351 than against other variants of the coronavirus, but still offered a strong defense. While the study results may cause concern, the low prevalence of the South African strain was encouraging, according to Stern. “Even if the South African variant goes through the protection of the vaccine, it has not spread widely among the population,” Stern said, adding that the British variant may be “blocking” the spread of the South African strain. Almost 53% of Israel’s 9.3 million population have received both doses from Pfizer. Israel has largely reopened its economy in recent weeks, while the pandemic appears to be receding and rates of infection, serious illness and hospitalizations drop dramatically. About a third of Israelis are under the age of 16, which means they are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.