Israel has issued a stark warning about the COVID-19 vaccine — it can blunt the spread of the delta variant, but it cannot defeat it.

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Officials in Israel said this week that the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine might not be totally effective against the novel coronavirus.

Another layer of COVID-19 vaccine inequality

Israel has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 78% of those 12 years old and up fully vaccinated, per Science Magazine. However, the country has been suffering from one of the world’s highest infection rates — with 650 infections per 1 million people, according to Science Magazine.

  • “More than half are in fully vaccinated people, underscoring the extraordinary transmissibility of the delta variant and stoking concerns that the benefits of vaccination ebb over time,” per Science Magazine.
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Ran Balicer — chief innovation officer at Clalit Health Services, which is Israel’s largest health maintenance organization — said this is a huge warning for the rest of the world, according to Science Magazine.

  • “This is a very clear warning sign for the rest of world,” he said. “If it can happen here, it can probably happen everywhere.”

Why Israel matters for the United States

Israel has often been considered a template for the United States when it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccine’s efficacy against the coronavirus.

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Most recently, U.S. health officials have been looking at Israel as well when it comes to a third COVID-19 vaccine dose. The country “has been offering a coronavirus booster to people over 60 who were already vaccinated more than five months ago,” per The Associated Press.

  • Recent Israel data has concerned officials, though, since it shows that “the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine’s protection against severe disease has fallen significantly for elderly people who got their second shot in January or February,” per The New York Times.
  • In fact, experts told The New York Times that data from Israel showed “continued erosion of the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine against mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 infections in general and against severe disease among the elderly who were vaccinated early in the year.”