The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, indicated that the B.1.351 variant of the virus—also known as the novel coronavirus—was found eight times more than individuals who were unvaccinated, or 5.4 percent against 0.7 percent. Clalit Health Services, a top Israeli health-care provider, also helped in the study.
“We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group,” said Adi Stern of Tel Aviv University. “This means that the South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection.”
The study looked at 400 people who received at least one shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and had contracted the COVID-19 variant and compared them to the same number of people who were infected and unvaccinated. Moderna’s vaccine is also used in Israel, but it was not included in the study.
“It is the first in the world to be based on real-world data, showing that the vaccine is less effective against the South Africa variant, compared to both the original virus and the British variant,” said Professor Ran Balicer, director of research at Clalit, according to news reports.
Stern said the study’s findings came as a surprise.
“Based on patterns in the general population, we would have expected just one case of the South African variant, but we saw eight,” Stern told the Times of Israel. “Obviously, this result didn’t make me happy.” He added, “Even if the South African variant does break through the vaccine’s protection, it has not spread widely through the population.”
He continued: “These preliminary findings necessitates close continued attention to the dissemination of this strain in Israel, emphasizing the need for epidemiological monitoring and systematic sequencing, in order to contain further spread of the South African variant in Israel.”
The South African variant accounted for less than one percent of all COVID-19 cases in Israel, reported AFP, citing the study.
“This means that the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine, though highly protective, probably does not provide the same level of protection against the South African (B.1.351) variant of the coronavirus,” the study said.
Israel, separately, has rolled out a so-called “vaccine passport” system that allows people who have been vaccinated privileges over individuals who are not vaccinated. Such systems have been criticized by civil liberties groups, saying it would be an infringement on people’s rights, including privacy, and would potentially create a two-tiered class system of vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
The Epoch Times has contacted Pfizer for comment.