The following is a transcript of an interview with Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s director of Public Health Services, that aired on Sunday, August 1, 2021, on “Face the Nation.”
JOHN DICKERSON: One country that started vaccinating its population early on is Israel. That head start means that the US and other countries are watching Israel’s COVID and vaccine data for clues about what might happen in their future. Last week, Israelis started giving those over the age of 60 booster shots, becoming the first country in the world to do so after data showed diminished protection against covid among those who had been vaccinated eight months ago. To get a sense of what Israel is seeing, that may give us guidance to the next steps here in the US, we turn now to Sharon Alroy-Preis, who is Israel’s director of public health services. She joins us from Jerusalem. Good morning, Doctor.
DIRECTOR OF ISRAELI PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICES DR. SHARON ALROY-PREIS: Good morning. Thank you for having me.
JOHN DICKERSON: Thank you for being with us. So Israel is seeing the same thing we have in the states, an uptick in cases because of the Delta variant. What is the biggest concern for you with the Delta variant?
DR. ALROY-PREIS: So there are two major concerns. One is that the Delta variant is 50% more infectious than the previous, the Alpha variant, which was 50% more infectious than the original one. And we still have a third of our population that is not immunized or has not been recovered. We have a large children population. And so that is obviously concerning. The other point is that we are seeing about 50% of the people who are infected right now are vaccinated, fully vaccinated individuals. And so that is obviously of concern. Previously, we thought that vaccinated, fully vaccinated individuals are protected. We’re now see- we now see that the vaccine effectiveness against disease is roughly 40%. It still remains high for severe disease. But we are seeing diminished protection, especially for people who have been vaccinated earlier.
JOHN DICKERSON: So in that category of those where you’re seeing diminished protection, is it possible to break out what portion is diminished because they received the vaccine earlier? And what portion is- are those who’ve been vaccinated, who are infected, who have, for lack of a better term, a robust vaccine protection?
DR. ALROY-PREIS: That was the- the million-dollar question for us. And we’ve been following this for several weeks now, trying to tease apart whether it’s a problem of elderly individuals who have lower immune system response, and that’s together with a Delta variant- more infectious. We see this. Or it’s really waning immunity. And what we have been seeing in the past several weeks is actually an evidence that there is waning immunity. If we compare people both over the age of 60, but also between 16 to 59 who were immunized early on, so were fully vaccinated by the end of January, we see infection rate among them that is 90 per 100,000 which is double that of those who were fully vaccinated in March. So we see a drop in- in the vaccine effectiveness against disease for those who have been vaccinated early on. And we see it for both elderly people over the age of 60, but also for younger.
JOHN DICKERSON: And so that data presumably, obviously, is what’s leading to the booster shots. Have you been able to draw any conclusions from those who’ve gotten a booster shot? Has it worked as you’d hoped?
DR. ALROY-PREIS: So we’ve just started the booster shot. I will- I have to explain that the decision to make a booster shot available is a combination of two. First is really the evidence of what we think is waning immunity and the difference between the infection rate between those who were vaccinated early on and those who were vaccinated later, but also the evidence that we have increased severe and critical condition in hospitalization with severe and critical conditions among the 60 and above population who are fully immunized. And that’s together with the fact that we are seeing lack of- lack of response to the vaccine over time has led us to suggest to people or actually allow them to be vaccinated a third time. So it’s- it’s not just the fact that we’re seeing more disease, but they’re getting to severe and critical conditions.
JOHN DICKERSON: On the question of mask mandates, Israel has reinstated those. Are you seeing the same thing that- that seemed to concern officials here in the United States about those who are vaccinated being capable of spreading? And that that was a finding they hadn’t seen here in the states before.
DR. ALROY-PREIS: So we are looking at that. We are trying to introduce back what we call the green pass, which means people can go into events with a certificate that they have been vaccinated or recovered individuals or to be tested. In order to continue with this policy we needed to check if vaccinated individuals can infect others. We know that they can be infected. We see them. They’re 50% of the confirmed cases on a daily basis now. But the question is whether they can infect others. And we actually saw that 80% of vaccinated individuals who have become confirmed cases themselves, 80% of them have zero contacts that have been confirmed and another 10% have- have only one contact that- that was confirmed to be a case because of their connection with this individual. So their ability to- to infect others is 50% lower than those who are not vaccinated.
JOHN DICKERSON: So just so I make it abundantly clear, those- you found that there is some very small amount of those who have been vaccinated who can spread, but it’s quite small. The majority of those have been vaccinated–
DR. ALROY-PREIS: Yeah.
JOHN DICKERSON:–you found are not spreading?
DR. ALROY-PREIS: Exactly, exactly. There is a spread among household contacts, but if we take household contacts out of the equation, the- the- the risk of a confirmed case who is vaccinated to infect others is about 10% for- to infect one other individual and lower than 10% to infect more than one.
JOHN DICKERSON: All right. Wonderful. Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, thank you so much for being with us. We really appreciate it.
DR. ALROY-PREIS: Sure. Thank you for having me.
JOHN DICKERSON: And we’ll be right back.