Israel, where 3 in 5 are fully vaccinated, has a message for New Zealand: COVID-19 jabs reduce hospitalisations

Israel, where three in five people are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, has a message for New Zealand: despite a reported drop in efficacy, the Pfizer jab reduces hospitalisations. 

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lior Haiat discussed the country's Pfizer vaccine rollout with Newshub on Wednesday during a virtual media roundtable involving journalists from across the globe. 

Haiat addressed data published by Israeli news website Ynet showing a drop in the efficacy rate of the Pfizer vaccine in preventing COVID-19 infections, which was attributed to the spread of the Delta variant and the easing of restrictions. 

The Israeli data, which is expected to be made public soon, purportedly showed how the vaccine efficacy rate fell from 94.3 percent to 64 percent five days after coronavirus restrictions were pulled back in June when cases dropped to below 20 a day. 

Israel, where just over 63 percent of the population are fully vaccinated, is now reporting thousands of cases a day. It has raised concerns that the vaccine might not be as effective as it was touted to be. 

However, the Israeli data also showed that protection against hospitalisation and serious illness remained strong with the Pfizer vaccine - a point emphasised by Haiat, and a lesson he said Kiwis should learn from them. 

"Vaccination is a solution to COVID. It was a solution in the beginning of the year, [but] unfortunately we are facing a new wave of COVID Delta [which] is affecting Israel, especially in the number of new cases per day [which] is very high," he told Newshub. 

"But we saw that people who were vaccinated twice and then a third booster vaccination were less likely to be contaminated, and if they are, they are less likely to reach a severe case of COVID.

"Most of the people that are hospitalised in Israel today are people that are not vaccinated. This is a lesson we have to learn. This is a thing that the entire world has to understand, that the solution for COVID is to be vaccinated."

New Zealand, by comparison, has fully vaccinated about 31 percent of the population. 

Israel was one of the first nations to achieve a high rate of vaccination. By late February, authorities had administered at least one dose to 50 percent of the population. In New Zealand, 69 percent of the eligible population aged 12 and over have now had one dose of Pfizer. 

New Zealand has also been able to drop COVID-19 restrictions at various stages since the pandemic began, but only by stamping the virus out. Israel opened up not by eliminating the virus, but through vaccination - a goal Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wants to achieve. 

"What we've said is that while we're at this part of our strategy, which of course is focused on elimination to allow us to make sure that we're safely vaccinating our population, that is our absolute focus," Ardern said this week. 

"What we've said is we will then listen to the experts as we have all the way through and their advice on what the phase that we'll move into thereafter looks like. But for now, the strategy is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate."

Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lior Haiat.
Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Lior Haiat. Photo credit: Facebook / Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Haiat conducted more than 12 hours of discussions to mark one year since the Abraham Accords - a United States-led declaration of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. 

He said while the Abraham Accords may not mean much to Kiwis, the peace agreement will have a positive impact on New Zealand, particularly in terms of travel. 

"The peace agreement between Israel and the UAE, as well as Bahrain, brings New Zealand closer to Israel because it changes the length of the flights between Israel to Asia, and therefore Israel to New Zealand," Haiat told Newshub. 

"It will make tourism in New Zealand easier and tourism for Kiwis in Israel easier and it will make trade easier and it will definitely create opportunities for New Zealand to be part of a triangle with Israel and the UAE, or Israel and Bahrain, that will be not just a win-win situation, but a win-win-win situation."

Ardern praised the UAE recently for its assistance in helping get Kiwis out of Afghanistan, but New Zealand's relationship with Israel was tested in May after 243 Palestinians were killed by Israeli airstrikes during a stand-off with Hamas, the group that governs the contested Gaza Strip. 

"I don't think the Israel-New Zealand relationship should be dominated by a conflict between Israel and the Palestinians," Haiat told Newshub. 

"We should have bilateral relations as we have with so many countries in the world that we don't see eye-to-eye on different issues."