In an alarming new development, the particularly virulent delta variant of COVID-19 has infected some fully vaccinated adults in Israel, officials there have reported.
Though the daily total of new cases in the country on Thursday was a relatively low 200, about half of adults infected amid an outbreak of the delta variant had been fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
Half of all infected were children younger than 16, most of whom hadn’t yet been vaccinated, professor Ran Balicer, who leads an expert advisory panel on COVID-19 for the Israeli government, told the Journal.
About 90% of the new infections in Israel were likely caused by the delta variant, he said.
Spurred by the new information, the Israeli government has now reimposed an indoor mask mandate and quickly expanded its vaccination program to include children ages 12 to 15.
The World Health Organization on Friday also warned everyone, even those fully vaccinated, to “play it safe” and continue to wear a mask and maintain social distancing in light of the large numbers of people who remain unvaccinated and the emergence of the delta variant, which it called the “most transmissible” form of the coronavirus identified to date.
“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines, said at a news briefing in Geneva. “Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission.”
“People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, [use] hand hygiene ... [practice] physical distance, avoid crowding.”
Israel also announced this week that it would delay by a month — to Aug. 1 — its plan to allow individual tourists to enter the country again, Agence France-Presse reported.
The precautions are necessary because the delta variant has “changed the transmission dynamics,” warned Balicer.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said earlier this week that the “goal is now primarily to protect Israelis from the delta variant that is rampaging throughout the world. We’ve decided to act as early as possible to not pay a higher price down the road.”
Israel’s aggressive vaccination program has kept cases and deaths low. But new cases jumped to 200 on Thursday, up from 10 cases a day for much of the month. At the peak of the nation’s outbreak in January, Israel was recording about 10,000 daily cases.
Until now, most health officials have downplayed the delta variant’s threat to vaccinated people. Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. are currently among unvaccinated people.
Chief White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that the delta variant will soon be the dominant form of the coronavirus in the U.S., but he emphasized that the danger is to those not yet vaccinated.
“It’s the unvaccinated people that we’re concerned about,” Fauci said in an interview Wednesday on NBC’s “Today” show. “They’ve got to start paying attention to it now because if they’re unvaccinated, they’re at risk.”
The delta variant, first found in India, contributed to an outbreak that killed hundreds of thousands of people. It currently makes up about 20% of newly diagnosed coronavirus cases in the U.S. The delta strain is both more transmissible and also linked to more more severe disease than the current alpha strain that is dominant in America.
If the delta variant is allowed to spread through unvaccinated people, there’s not only a heightened risk of severe illness but also a chance it could mutate and form yet another deadly new variant that could be less affected or even unaffected by current vaccines, experts warn.
“The delta variant is currently the greatest threat in the U.S. to our attempt to eliminate COVID-19,” Fauci said.
The variant has now been detected in more than 85 countries.