An Israeli health worker from Maccabi Healthcare Services prepares to deliver a dose of the Pfizer BioNtech vaccine in Tel Aviv on February 24, 2021.
Jack Guez | AFP | Getty Images
The coronavirus variant, first discovered in South Africa, may evade some of the protection provided by the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, according to a new Israeli study that has not yet been peer-reviewed.
Researchers from Tel Aviv University and Clalit, the largest health organization in Israel, examined nearly 400 people who had tested positive for Covid-19 after receiving at least one dose of the vaccine. They compared it to the same number of people who were infected and not vaccinated.
The researchers found that the prevalence of the South African variant known as B.1.351 was about eight times higher in patients who received two doses of the vaccine than in those who were not vaccinated. The data, published online over the weekend, suggest that B.1.351 may “break through” the vaccine’s protection better than the original strain, the researchers in the study wrote.
“Based on patterns in the general population, we would have expected only one case of the South African variant, but we saw eight,” Professor Adi Stern, who led the research, told The Times of Israel. “We can say it’s less effective, but more research is needed to see exactly how much.”
CNBC asked Pfizer to comment on the study.
The new data comes as public health officials are increasingly concerned that highly contagious variants, studies have shown can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, could slow global advances in the pandemic.
Last month, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky issued a terrible warning, telling reporters that she feared the United States was facing “impending doom” as variants spread and daily Covid-19 cases rise again, threatening to move more people to the US send hospital.
“I’m going to stop here, I’m going to lose the script and I’m going to think about the recurring feeling I have before the impending doom,” she said on March 29, so much promise and potential where we are and so much reason to Hope, but right now I’m scared. “
Israel launched its national vaccination campaign in December, prioritizing people aged 60 and over, healthcare workers, and people with comorbid illnesses. By February, it was the world leader in vaccinations, vaccinating millions of its citizens against the virus.
In January, Pfizer and the Israeli Ministry of Health signed a collaboration agreement to monitor the real effects of its vaccine.
The researchers found that the study’s main limitation was the same sample size. B.1,351 only made up about 1% of all Covid-19 cases, they said. B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in Great Britain, is more common.
As the variants spread, drug manufacturers tested whether a third dose would offer more protection.
In February, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they were testing a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine to better understand the immune response against new variants of the virus.