A municipal worker takes the temperature reading of a worker in Jerusalem (representational image) | Photo: Kobi Wolf | Bloomberg
A municipal worker takes the temperature reading of a worker in Jerusalem (representational image) | Photo: Kobi Wolf | Bloomberg
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New Delhi: Israel’s Ministry of Health has warned of community transmission by the double mutant strain, also known as the Indian variant or B.1.617, after it found 41 cases in the country, 17 of whom hadn’t been abroad. 

Israel’s head of public health services Dr Sharon Alroy-Preis said Thursday it wasn’t clear if Covid-19 vaccines protect against the Indian variant, saying, “We don’t know about the Indian variant, we don’t know enough.” 

Scientists, however, said the Pfizer vaccine, which was used to fully vaccinate over 80 per cent of the country’s population, remains highly effective. 

Dr Carl Theodore Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington, said the impression that the variant would escape the vaccine was misguided when the statistics are carefully looked at. 

Of the 41 cases flagged by Israel’s Ministry of Health, 24 cases were among people who returned recently from abroad, including 21 foreign residents, and 17 were among people who had no history of travel. 

Five children were also among the 41, who tested positive for the Indian variant, and four had been fully vaccinated. 

“Here are the numbers. 24 with recent travel history. 17 with no travel history, 5 children, 4 vaccinated. Approximately, 85 per cent of the adult population in Israel has been fully vaccinated. So what does this tell us about vaccine effectiveness against B.1.617 in adults?” Bergstrom wrote in a tweet.

“Assume the 5 children were <16 and thus unvaccinated. That gives us 32 cases among unvaccinated adults, and 4 cases among vaccinated adults. The basic calculation for effectiveness then gives us a remarkable 98 per cent against B.1.617,” said Bergstrom.

“Now — even with these worst-case assumptions — we estimate 92 per cent effectiveness for the vaccine using the same calculation … Worst case point estimates is that the Pfizer vaccine is as effective against B.1.617 as it is against wild type,” he added.

Also read: India successfully cultured UK variant of coronavirus strain, says ICMR

‘Confident’ about Pfizer vaccine

A day before the Israel health ministry put out a statement warning against the double mutant strain, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told CNBC that he was “confident” that the Pfizer vaccine would work against the Indian strain. 

“We are evaluating (the strain)… and the data will be available in the coming weeks,” he told CNBC, adding, “However, we had similar double mutants in our prior testing, and we are confident based on the data we had in the past that we might see a similar fashion of neutralisation of this virus. But we will only know it if we have the data in our hands.”

India, meanwhile, is “in talks” with Pfizer, which offered the Indian government a not-for-profit price for its vaccine. 

(Edited by Debalina Dey)

Also read: ‘Indian strain’ of coronavirus found in 17 countries, says WHO


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