What can the US learn from the COVID-19 vaccination results in Israel?

Michael Perchick Image
Tuesday, February 16, 2021
What can the US learn from the COVID-19 vaccination results in Israel?
Despite having a smaller population, Israel has administered more than three times the number of shots as North Carolina.

While the US has made recent strides in increasing vaccination rates, the CDC reports just 12% of the country has received first doses, not enough to make a widescale impact.

In Israel, that number tops 40%, the highest level in the world.

Early results show the vaccine has been effective. Clalit, the country's largest healthcare provider, reviewed findings of a group of 1.2 million people, half of whom received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, half of whom had not yet been vaccinated. They report there was a 94% drop in symptomatic case and 92% drop in serious illnesses in the group that had been vaccinated compared to the group which had not.

Maccabi Healthcare Services, another healthcare provider, shared similarly strong results. Of the half a million people vaccinated with both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, they report just 544 instances of people being diagnosed with coronavirus, none which have resulted in deaths.

"We should celebrate the science that allowed us to develop these vaccines in record time and recognize that we have data, and compelling data that there are not safety issues that we haven't known about, that the effectiveness is real," said Dr. Krishna Udayakumar, the Founding Director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center.

Israel, which provides universal healthcare plus the ability for residents to purchase further coverage in the private market, has a population of about nine million people. By comparison, North Carolina has a population of about 10.5 million people, while being six times larger in size than Israel.

Despite having a smaller population, Israel has administered more than triple the number of shots - over six million doses, including four million-plus first doses, while North Carolina, even when including vaccines administered in long-term care settings (a process run by the federal government), has administered about 1.8 million shots total.

"It was super smooth. The way it was going at first is they were unlocking certain age groups, however at the end of the day you can go and get extras," said Chelsea Pincus, an American who now lives in Israel.

Pincus has already received both vaccine doses.

"From an older person's perspective, my grandma can't really see or use her phone. She was able to get vaccinated super easily. The doctors called her, told her where to go, and gave her the address. She got her second vaccination weeks ago," said Shir Abgui, a fellow American who also lives in Israel.

Doctors are hopeful that strong initial data out of Israel will encourage Americans with vaccine hesitancy to get the show.

"I think there are quite a few things we can learn from Israel as well as countries around the world. From Israel, certainly approaching this effort with a sense of urgency is something they've done really well, so making sure that there are clear communications about the value of vaccinations. So dealing with any issues dealing with vaccine confidence or hesitancy ties into that. They've also ramped up their rapid immunization sites and looking at mass vaccinations as a mechanism to get it out to as many people as possible. They've also been very simple in the criteria that they've used to prioritize, rather than get caught up in complex algorithms, they've made sure largely to use age to reach people as quickly as possible," said Dr. Udayakumar.

Acquiring more vaccine doses will help the process; later this month, the FDA will consider granting Emergency Use Authorization to the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine, which could lead to increase rates.

Still, doctors are quick to note that research is ongoing to learn what protection the vaccine offers against variants as well as in preventing transmission.

Then there's the matter of determining how much of the population needs to be vaccinated to make a large-scale impact.

"I think that what we probably need is well over 50%, probably in the 80-90% to get to where we want to be. So year, we just need to get a lot more people vaccinated," said Dr. Tony Moody, with the Duke Human Vaccine Institute.

Outside acquiring more vaccines, states are focused on more quickly distributing the doses they do have. Beckers Hospital Review reported North Carolina had administered the 19th-highest percentage of vaccines its received thus far, about 78%.

"North Carolina is doing what it always does, which is step up at times when it needs to step up. We've got a lot of academic institutions in the state that are really supporting this. You've got four very strong medical schools. You've got a lot of really important contributions from the state government, so I think they're doing better. Could they do better than that? Of course. We can always do better. But I think they've stepped up," Dr. Moody said.

Despite strong vaccination efforts, the Israeli government has continued to implement strict mitigation measures. On Wednesday, ABC11 will take a look at those efforts, and how that could provide insight in the US.