Israeli children vaccinated against coronavirus capture the Omicron variant at less than half the rate of their unvaccinated peers, according to new research published late Wednesday.
The study, believed to be the first of its kind, is a rare bright spot for Israel as it struggles with a massive wave of infections sweeping across the country. As of Wednesday night, nearly 400,000 Israelis had active COVID infections, representing over 4 percent of the entire population, with 60,000 to 70,000 new cases added daily.
The study examined children aged 5-11, a group eligible for vaccines in late November, and found that the vaccines provided strong protection against coronavirus variants, especially in the first few months after being administered .
"Even during the Omicron wave, a vaccine given within the last three months - whether it's two doses or a booster dose - provides improved protection against infection compared to the unvaccinated or those whose vaccines are obsolete," the health ministry said in a statement.
The Ministry of Health-led study showed that between 25 December and 16 January, just over 260 out of every 100,000 unvaccinated children in this age group were infected on average per day. Among those with vaccines, the number was just over 120.
Teenagers who received booster doses were also found to have increased protection.
Israel made boosters available in late December for teens who had received their first two doses at least three months before.
Those with boosters became infected at a rate of about 90 cases per day. 100,000, while the unvaccinated became infected at a rate of 330 infections per 100,000.
The study period coincided with a three-week stretch in which COVID rates broke out from a moving average of nearly 1,300 new cases per day to over 45,000 daily infections, mainly driven by Omicron, which has been shown to spread at a devastating rate, even among many of the fully vaccinated.
The data, which has not been peer-reviewed, is likely to reassure officials due to concerns about the Omicron variant's apparent ability to break through vaccine defenses. According to the data, the vaccines work best by keeping Omicron in check shortly after they are administered. But these defenses seem to be falling apart quickly after the first few months.
According to the study, teens who received their first two doses three to four months earlier received COVID at a rate of 220 cases per day. 100,000 people. Those vaccinated five months or more earlier were only slightly better protected than the unvaccinated, being infected at a rate of about 290 per cent. 100,000.
The small margin of infection between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated among teenagers stands in stark contrast to the previous Delta wave of the virus, where those who had been immunized were apparently better protected. A study released in September found that vaccinated teens 12-18 were 90% less likely than their unvaccinated cohorts to become ill one week after the second dose.
Vaccines only became available in late December for those 11 and under, meaning it was not possible to compare performance with Delta and Omicron.
The study was conducted by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, the Hebrew University and the Gartner Institute at Sheba Medical Center.
Despite the positive data, admissions among young people have doubled from 52 patients to 104 patients in recent days, according to a Wednesday report from Kan public broadcaster.
The report did not attribute the data to a source or define what age group it included as young people. The Ministry of Health could not be immediately contacted to verify the figures.
According to official ministerial data released on Wednesday, about 2 percent of all patients in severe or critical condition were 4 years or younger, up from an average of 1% in the days before. While those in the 5-11 group remained at 0%, these 12-15 according to the data had increased from 0% to 1%.
The figures showed that over 53,000 of the over 388,000 currently active infections are among the 5-11, although over 47,000 of them are unvaccinated. A further approximately 34,000 active infections come from the age group 12-15 years, but among this cohort they are vaccinated in the majority, with almost 20,000 of the cases.
Data showed late Wednesday that 1,548 patients were hospitalized with coronavirus, the majority of whom had relatively minor infections, and 540 people were listed in serious condition. Data showed that over half of the serious patients had been vaccinated, while a further approximately 175 had never been vaccinated and the remaining patients had been vaccinated over six months previously.