The South African coronavirus variant is better at “breaking through” the defences of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine than other forms of the virus, Israeli experts said Sunday.
However, one of the authors told AFP that while the study showed the variant to be relatively successful in infecting vaccinated people, it did not provide any data on whether it could generate serious illness among vaccinees.
The study by Tel Aviv University and Clalit Health Services, Israel’s largest healthcare provider, compared 400 unvaccinated people infected with Covid-19 to 400 partially or fully vaccinated people who also had the virus.
According to the study, published as a draft on Saturday and currently being peer reviewed, the South African variant accounted for less than one percent of coronavirus cases in Israel.
But, among the 150 people in the study who were fully vaccinated and had Covid-19, “the prevalence rate (of the South African variant) was eight times higher than the rate in the unvaccinated (individuals),” the study said.
“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 added.
“The South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection,” said professor Adi Stern of Tel Aviv University’s Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research, one of the study’s authors.
Stern told AFP Sunday the study did not assess whether the fully vaccinated Israelis with the South African variant — eight people in total — developed serious illness.
“Since we found a very small number of vaccinees infected with B.1.351, it is statistically meaningless to report disease outcomes,” he said.