Two of Israel’s top health officials have urged caution in the rush to report the impact of coronavirus vaccines on the Omicron variant.
Nachman Ash, the director general of the health ministry, told listeners to Galatz radio Wednesday morning, that it was simply too early to reach conclusions.
“There is no data at the moment that can support this or that assessment [of vaccine efficacy] and we have no choice but to wait a few days and see the data,” Ash said.
“Both here [in Israel] and elsewhere in the world, the evaluation of the vaccine is being examined. Patience is required,” he added.
Elsewhere, listeners to 103FM were hearing a similar message from Salman Zarka, the head of the government’s coronavirus advisory group.
“The data is really at an initial stage. The information we have from South Africa is that among those hospitalized with the new variant, there are relatively more young people and fewer older people, so we cannot say anything regarding the risk to older adults,” he said.
Zarka also reminded listeners of the fact there are several vaccines on the market, with varying performances against the virus. In South Africa, many people have been given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, whereas in Israel the overwhelming majority have had the Pfizer/BioNTech product.
“Of those hospitalized [in South Africa] with the new variant, some have been vaccinated and some have not. Most of those who are vaccinated probably received Johnson & Johnson, which has a lower efficacy performance than Pfizer, which is what we have in Israel,” he said.
“There is probably initial data [from South Africa] that suggests it may be the case that the vaccine is less efficient against the new variant than it is against Delta, but even less efficient could still mean 85% or 80%. This is initial data and I don’t want to mislead the public.”
While officials are warning against jumping to conclusions about the relationship between the vaccine and the new variant, Ash said one characteristic of the Omicron variant was already becoming clear.
“We know it is more infectious. Data from South Africa in this respect is worrying. There is a very quick rise in infections there. But that is all we can say for sure,” Ash said.
The director general of Israel’s health ministry added that there are conflicting reports regarding the severity of the disease, and whether or not there are more hospitalizations. “As for the vaccine, as I said, we really don’t know,” he emphasized.
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