Photo Credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90
The 2,000,000th vaccinated Israeli took the shot in Ramla, January 14, 2021.

Friday’s snapshot from Israel’s Health Ministry does not show the coronavirus has budged, in fact, it has become more virile, so to speak, following a week of the country’s most severe lockdown and close to 2 million receiving the first round of the vaccine.

9,172 new cases were verified on Thursday, based on 123,081 Test results. As of Friday morning there are 1,097 patients in severe condition, with 263 on respirators. 3,869 have died from the pandemic since its outbreak. Also, 1,992,720 have received the first round of vaccinations, and 169,171 came back for the second dose.

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On November 1, 2020, there were 1,014 verified corona patients in the country. It’s been a steep rise since:

Rise of Corona infections since Nov. 1, 2020. / Data from Israel’s Health Ministry

One week ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about expanding the vaccination campaign in Israel so that by the end of March, all citizens age 16 and over will be vaccinated. But how many people need to get vaccinated for life in Israel to get back on track? The accepted estimate worldwide is between 60% and 75%, but it’s more complicated than that.

Herd immunity was recognized as a naturally occurring phenomenon in the 1930s when it was observed that after a significant number of children had become immune to measles, the number of new infections temporarily decreased, including among the unvaccinated. Mass vaccination to induce herd immunity has since become common and proved successful in preventing the spread of many infectious diseases.

Once a virus encounters people who are vaccinated against it, it does not reproduce or spread. It encounters a metaphoric wall that prevents it from reaching the dimensions of an epidemic, and the more such walls there are in the population, the faster an epidemic is stopped.

But in the case of the corona vaccine, it is not yet known whether those who are vaccinated will not only not get sick, but also won’t pass the virus on. Or, to continue our metaphor, the virus hits a wall, but can hang on it until, through airborne droplets, it moves to a new potential victim.

As long as there is no certainty that vaccinated individuals do not continue to be contagious, it could take several months for the epidemic to be slowed down at all. So far, Health Ministry experts have been suggesting that by the end of next week there will be a reduction in the daily infections, and they also insist the country needs two more weeks of a tight lockdown to emerge from the nightmare. But Israel is two months away from an election, an excellent time for pretentious politicians to push populism from the pulpit pandering to voters by demanding taking down the lockdown.

Even assuming that vaccinated people are not infectious, about 70% of the population will need to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the virus, and that brings us to another obstacle: children under the age of 16 are not vaccinated, and in Israel they make up 30% of the population – which means that the entire adult population must be vaccinated for the nightmare to stop.

Add to the mix those who oppose vaccines in principle, those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, and those for whom the vaccine will not be effective, and you’ll start understanding the problem Israel is facing. The PM has been promising a virus-free Israel by Passover, but this will require public discipline, a much better economic relief system, and adherence to the rules by populations that normally live by their own rules.

The final, and least predictable obstacle are the Corona mutations. Viruses mutate all the time, and Pfizer has announced that its vaccines are at least able to cope with the British mutation. But the Israeli health system is also dealing with the less known South African and Brazilian mutations. Those may not be more violent, but it’s expected that they are more contagious and can spread more quickly, even among children, who, as we mentioned above, don’t get vaccinated. And so, as long as such a large part of the population cannot be vaccinated, including adults who will not or cannot be vaccinated, the mutation can cause the virus to continue to spread, become more complex and delay our return to normal life even longer.

Did anyone say Shavu’ot?

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.