Vaccine frontrunner slips

BLOOMBERG—Israel, once a front-runner in the global race to move on from Covid-19, is now one of the world’s biggest pandemic hot spots.

Earlier predicted to be the first to vaccinate its entire population, the country had the highest per-capita caseload anywhere in the week through Sept. 4, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Daily cases climbed to an all-time high of 11,316 on Sept. 2. Still, the number of people falling seriously sick and being hospitalized rose more slowly than it did during the last coronavirus wave, peaking at 751 in late August, compared with 1,183 in mid-January.

Israel’s recent experience shows how the calculus is changing in places where progress was fastest. It’s no longer just about whether people get coronavirus, but also how badly they get it. Ensuring that vaccines still work against the highly infectious delta variant is crucial.

Amid hesitancy in the Orthodox Jewish and Arab communities, Israel’s world-beating inoculation rate has tumbled down the league table, falling from first to 33rd in Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. About 61% of Israelis have been given two doses, less than among European laggards earlier in the year such as France and Spain.

For Israel’s public health officials and politicians, the latest chapter of the pandemic has meant focusing on booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for older, at-risk people.

As of Sept. 6, at least 2.6 million people in Israel—28% of the population, including 64% of those over age 60—have now received boosters, according to the health ministry. The additional shots are also available for anyone over 12 who was vaccinated at least five months ago.

Epidemiologists say cases among the over-30s are already declining thanks to the boosters and laws that restrict bars and restaurants to the fully vaccinated. The highest rate of new cases in recent weeks is among children under the age of 12, according to Ran Balicer, chair of the expert advisory panel to the government on Covid.

Yet a wild card remains: The return of schools last week could change the transmission dynamics and expose all age groups to infection as kids come home with Covid, Balicer says. —Daniel Avis

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