A recent study led by Tel Aviv University and Clatit, Israel’s second largest healthcare provider, found that the South African variant of SARS-CoV-2, known as B.1.351, while only an estimated 1% of all COVID-19 cases, in the study population can actually “break through” the mRNA-based vaccine called BNT162b2, produced by Germany’s BioNTech in partnership with American multinational pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Based on a real-world data study in Israel comparing nearly 400 people affirmed positive for COVID-19 and after receiving one or two doses of the vaccine versus the same number of unvaccinated individuals affirmed positive with SARS-CoV-2. This observational study matches other demographic attributes, from gender to age. A disturbing finding occured: the South African variant’s prevalence rate turns out to be eight times higher in the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated group totaling -5.4% versus 0.7%. While this is just the result of one observational study and no conclusions can be made, the study suggests that the BNT162b2 vaccine is actually less effective against B.1.351 as compared to the original SARS-CoV-2 and the UK variant that represents most cases in Israel, reports the team from Tel Aviv University.
Principal Investigator Point of View
Study lead Professor Adi Stern, an accomplished virologist at Tel Aviv University, declared for the public, “We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection.” TrialSite shares a recent update made possible thanks to Maayan Lubell with Reuters.
High Effective Rate Reported for BNT162b2
Recently the partnered companies Pfizer and BioNTech reported to the world that the vaccine was about 92% effective at preventing COVID-19, referring to a recent study data covering participants post six months the initial jab.
While some previous studies pointed to perhaps less potency against the South African strain, a recent Pfizer/BioNTech study concluded overwhelming potency.
The recent Pfizer press release noted that in South Africa, where B.1.351 is prevalent, 800 study participants enrolled in a recent study. In all nine cases of COVID-19 there were observed, all were in the placebo group, indicating a vaccine efficacy of 100% against the South African variant (95% CI, [53.5, 100.0]). Six of the nine positive cases were associated with the B.1.351 strain. Overall, the Pfizer study indicates highly robust neutralizing abilities of BNT162b2 against the South African strain.
Limitations of Current Israeli Observational Study
First, it should be noted that B.1.351 represents only 1% of the sample population, meaning that it doesn’t appear to be a significant presence in this nation along eastern Mediterranean. Moreover, this was a relatively small observational study so no strong conclusions can be made from the study. As explained in a recent Reuters article, the research wasn’t intended to come to overall vaccine effectiveness against a particular variant as investigation only focused on those already affirmed COVID positive.
Vaccination Nation Heading toward Normalcy
Professor Stern isn’t too concerned, given first and foremost, the limited spread of the South African variant in Israel. The Israeli professor declared recently, “Even if the South African variant does break through the vaccine’s protection, it has not spread widely through the population.” Interestingly, Professor Stern suggested that the UK variant could be “blocking” the South African strain’s dissemination in this country.
Israel led the world in vaccinations against the coronavirus. Perhaps indicative of the highly organized and thoughtful leadership and populace, nearly 53% of the 9.3 million people living in this country received both doses of the mRNA-based BNT162b2 (Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine). Now with such widespread vaccination and a generally adherent population to safety measures, the pandemic now wanes and the population appears to be headed back outside, leading to an opening economy.