People vaccinated against COVID-19 and who recovered from an Omicron infection are best protected against the BA.5 subvariant that has been spreading, according to new findings by an Israeli hospital.
Initial results of research by Sheba Medical Center showed those who were vaccinated and had been sick with Omicron developed the most antibodies against BA.5, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.
The report added that those who were either vaccinated and did not contract Omicron or vice versa had significantly fewer antibodies than people who were both inoculated and previously infected with the coronavirus variant.
“We clearly see in the laboratory that someone who was sick with Omicron and not vaccinated is not protected against other variants,” Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of Sheba’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit, told the broadcaster.
“It needs to be understand that someone who was sick with Omicron isn’t sufficiently protected against the new variant and also all those who were vaccinated — but whoever was sick and vaccinated, developed more antibodies,” she added.
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The comments came amid a steady rise in new COVID cases, with a key figure measuring the virus’s spread hitting its highest value in three months earlier Sunday.
Prof. Gili Regev-Yochai, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at Sheba Medical Center (YouTube screenshot)
The virus’s basic reproduction number, or R-value, reached 1.44, as Health Ministry figures showed 3,259 new patients were diagnosed the day before.
The R-value, which represents the situation 10 days earlier, measures how many people each coronavirus carrier infects on average, with any number above 1 meaning the spread of COVID-19 is increasing. It first began to rise above 1 in mid-May, having stayed below the threshold for nearly two months.
There were 102 patients in serious condition, according to ministry figures.
Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka told Radio 103FM Sunday that he does not yet see the country as being in a full-fledged outbreak. He urged the public to resume wearing face masks but he stressed there is no intention at the moment to introduce any restrictions on the public as were applied over the past two years.
“We aren’t at a point of restrictions. We are only at the start of a rise,” Zarka said.
There are now 27,693 active patients confirmed in the country.
Health Ministry officials will this week meet to discuss reimposing an indoor mask mandate, Kan reported on Saturday.
The indoor face mask rule, which had been one of the last virus-related public health orders, was lifted on April 23. Masks are still required in health and medical centers.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz met with health officials and agreed that there would be no new virus restrictions implemented at this stage.
Israelis wear protective face masks in Dizengoff Center, Tel Aviv, on September 13, 2021 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israel has gone through five waves of COVID-19 infections since the start of the pandemic in 2020. It made mass vaccination a central strategy for dealing with the virus, and Sunday’s figures showed that so far, out of the population of some 9.5 million, over 6.7 million had received at least one dose.
Of those, 6,141,921 have had a second shot, and 4,495,625 have had three shots. There are also 814,955 who have had four doses.
Since the start of the pandemic, 10,882 people in Israel have died of COVID-19.