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Posts mislead on Israel vaccine data

July 22, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: The newest Israeli data on COVID-19 infections indicate a complete vaccine failure on every level. The data from Israel shows that nearly all serious cases and deaths are among the vaccinated.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. The claim ignores the fact that Israel has only a fraction of the COVID-19 cases that it had in January, before vaccines were widespread. Furthermore, the majority of adults in Israel are now vaccinated with two Pfizer shots. No vaccine is perfect at preventing breakthrough cases, but the data shows vaccines are reducing the number of people who are severely ill, hospitalized or die from the virus.

THE FACTS: Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate a huge swath of its population against COVID-19. Health officials around the world have been watching to see how the country fares against COVID-19 variants and how effective the Pfizer vaccine works at protecting the population.

Misleading posts on social media are now twisting data from Israel to falsely claim the country’s vaccination program is a failure due to the number of breakthrough cases of COVID-19 among the vaccinated. Medical professionals say Israel’s vaccine program is making remarkable progress against the virus.

“The vaccination campaign was hugely effective,” Dr. William A Petri, professor of infectious diseases at the University of Virginia, said of Israel’s efforts. “It’s really extraordinary how well these vaccines work.”

Experts say the country’s high vaccination rates are keeping case numbers down and reducing hospitalization and deaths even as the delta variant is provoking an uptick in infections. Data from Johns Hopkins University shows Israel documented 1,118 new cases on July 21 -- which is less than a tenth of the 11,934 new cases the country had at its peak on Jan. 27, before vaccines were widespread.

“It doesn’t mean vaccines don’t work,” Dr. Robert Cyril Bollinger, Johns Hopkins University professor of infectious diseases, said about Israel’s data. “They have very low rates after vaccination versus where they were before vaccination.”

The vast majority of the new cases in the past month have shown only mild symptoms, but at least 73 people have had serious cases of COVID-19, the Associated Press reported. That is well below the more than 1,000 serious cases treated each day at the height of the pandemic, but up from 19 in mid-June.

Eran Segal, a scientist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science who tracks COVID-19 data, tweeted on July 16 that the percent of COVID-19 patients who become critically ill has now decreased to 1.6% compared to 4% during a winter spike before vaccines were available.

As of Sunday, 56.3% of new cases in Israel were among vaccinated people. But that statistic reflects the fact that the majority of the population is now fully vaccinated.

Israel has a population of approximately 9.3 million people, of which more than 60% are fully vaccinated, according toJuly 21 numbers from the online scientific publication, Our World In Data. The country has had one of the swiftest vaccine rollouts in the world. By February, 80% of those over 60 had already received shots.

Since the start of the pandemic, experts have pointed out that vaccines are not 100% effective. In a July 5 statement, Israel’s Ministry of Health addressed the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine in light of the spreading delta variant and said, “the vaccine maintains an effectiveness rate of about 93% in preventing serious illness and hospitalization cases.”

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.


Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program