Thanks to the Israeli data, medical professionals around the world will be able to confidently reassure the people they’re vaccinating that the jab in the arm is safe.
What wasn’t expected was the way in which Israel was somehow declared retrospectively to be responsible for the vaccination of millions of Palestinians, even though they have their own health ministry which was making its own plans to get vaccines from Russia. Indeed, the Palestinians had explicitly rejected the idea of accepting help from Israel with one official declaring, “We are not a department in the Israeli Defense Ministry. We have our own government.”
However, whether many will ever admit it or not, all of humanity will benefit from how Israel has handled its vaccine rollout. It isn’t just that it was one of the first countries to approve the use of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine. Nor is it that as soon as the approval came through, it was able to hit the ground running getting extraordinary numbers of people vaccinated in the space of a few weeks.
Well-structured and organised medical records
What marks Israel’s rollout from that of other countries was the agreement to provide Pfizer with vast quantities of epidemiological data from the vaccination campaign, in effect the results from nearly 10 million people as opposed to the 43,000 on which the vaccine was originally tested. Israel was in a position to do this because of its well-structured and organised databases of medical records on all Israeli citizens. There is a long tradition in Israel of health plans and hospitals providing anonymised data from their electronic medical records for the purposes of domestic research. The infrastructure was already in place to offer Pfizer just what it needed and – unsurprisingly – the company jumped at the chance.
Ordinary Israelis taking a significant risk
This approach was not without controversy. This is still a very new vaccine and there was always a risk that some people might react badly to the vaccination. If even a small percentage had a severe reaction, the effects could have been catastrophic. As Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler of the Israel Democracy Institute said, Israelis were subjecting themselves to the widest medical experiment on humans in the 21st century. No other country was taking such a risk with its own people.
But it paid off spectacularly
Thankfully, it seems to have paid off – spectacularly. Just in the last 24 hours, one study on the Israeli data has released its findings showing that the Pfizer/BioNTech jab gives 94% protection against Covid19, and that vaccine efficacy is maintained in all age groups, including those over 70. For anyone who might be inclined to give some credence to the claims of Covid19-hoaxers and anti-vaxxers, this should provide a huge confidence boost. After all, developing vaccines is just a part of the battle against this pandemic; the vast majority of the world must be convinced that taking the vaccine is the correct and safe thing to do.
And the whole world reaps the benefits
Over the next few years, as the vaccination against Covid19 proceeds around the world, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals will be able to confidently reassure the people they’re vaccinating that the jab in the arm is safe. Those reassurances will be based to a large degree on data from Israel. Will the rest of humanity ever thank Israelis for the risk they took? Almost certainly not. Israel’s enemies in the international media have done a very effective job in making sure that the focus remains on the claim that Israel is responsible for the vaccination of Palestinians. However, the spurious claim does not in any way diminish humanity’s debt to Israel.
By Ciarán Ó Raghallaigh