Israel’s Struggles To Contain COVID-19 May Be A Warning For Other Nations

Meredith Wadman

Israel, among the first countries to launch coronavirus vaccinations and the first to roll out booster shots on a large scale, is offering a disturbing glimpse of what could be in store for other rich nations if they begin to give boosters this fall. Israel launched its pioneering booster campaign in late July, prompted by a surge in cases reflecting the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant, the loosening of restrictions, and an apparent waning of protection from vaccines given in early winter. But cases have risen even higher since, suggesting boosters are far from a panacea when children and others remain unvaccinated.

Since 30 July, Israel has given a third shot of messenger RNA vaccine to more than 3 million people, including a majority of those 40 and older. Yet Israel is “stuck in a status quo of 1000 or 900 new cases per million per day,” says Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer at Clalit Health Services, Israel’s largest health maintenance organization, “which is a very bad status quo to be stuck at.”

Public health experts differ about exactly why a country of 9.3 million that is vaccinating so aggressively still has one of the highest rates of reported infections per capita in the world, more than twice that of the United States. Extensive testing and social factors may play a role. But David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says it’s a sign that “providing booster shots alone does not dramatically change the course or trajectory of transmission at a country level.

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