JERUSALEM: The coronavirus variant discovered in South Africa could “break” Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to some extent, a real-world data study conducted in Israel was examined despite its low prevalence in the country and the study lacking precedent.
The study, published on Saturday, April 10, compared nearly 400 people who tested positive for COVID-19 14 days or more after receiving one or two doses of vaccine with the same number of unvaccinated patients with the disease. It matched age and gender, among other features.
According to research by Tel Aviv University and Clalit, Israel’s largest healthcare provider, the South African variant B1351 was found to account for about 1 percent of all COVID-19 cases in all people studied.
However, the prevalence rate of the variant among patients who received two doses of vaccine was eight times higher than those who were not vaccinated – 5.4 percent versus 0.7 percent.
The researchers show that the vaccine is less effective against the South African variant compared to the original coronavirus and a variant originally identified in the UK that includes almost all cases of COVID-19 in Israel.
“We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people who were vaccinated with a second dose compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant can break the vaccine’s protection to some extent,” said Adi Stern of Aviv University.
The researchers cautioned that the study only had a small sample size of people infected with the South African variant, due to the rarity in Israel.
They also said that the research was not aimed at extracting overall vaccine efficacy against any variant, as it only looked at people who had tested positive for COVID-19 and not on overall infection rates.
Pfizer and BioNTech could not be reached immediately to comment outside of office hours.
The companies said on April 1 that their vaccines were about 91 percent effective in preventing COVID-19, citing updated trial data that included participants who were vaccinated for up to six months.
Regarding the South African variant, they said that among 800 study volunteers in South Africa, where B1351 is common, there were nine cases of COVID-19, all of which occurred among participants who received a placebo. Six of these nine cases were among people infected with the South African variant.
Some previous research has shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is less effective against the B1351 variant than other variants of the coronavirus, but still offers a solid defense.
According to Stern, while the results of the study may raise concerns, the low prevalence of the South African species was encouraging.
“Even if the South African variant exceeded the protection of the vaccine, it did not spread widely in the population,” Stern said, adding that the British variant “blocked” the spread of the South African strain.
Almost 53 percent of Israel’s 9.3 million population received both doses of Pfizer. Israel has largely reopened its economy in recent weeks; The epidemic seems to be receding as infection rates, severe illnesses and hospitalizations are falling rapidly. About a third of Israelis are under the age of 16, which means they are still unsuitable for shooting.
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