Nov 28, 2021

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The sad death this week of highly respected US general Colin L. Powell – the first Black US secretary of state who was also Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – from complications of COVID-19 sent shockwaves around America and the world. 

The 84-year-old Powell suffered from multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells that suppresses the body’s immune response, but it was the Coronavirus that actually felled him, his family said. He had received two Pfizer vaccinations, the second in February. He was scheduled to get his booster shot this past week but that was when he fell ill so he wasn’t able to receive it. 

Although no medical treatment is 100% effective, the third shot of the vaccine would have significantly improved his chances for survival, doctors said. Five or six months after getting the second shot, the level of protective antibodies largely dissipates, thus increasing the risk that people without a third vaccination will get infected and infect others. 

Israel launched its mass vaccination campaign ahead of all other countries, so its decision to offer the booster shot to all over the age of 12 – and probably soon to children from the age of five years – preceded that in all other countries, even before approval by the US Food and Drug Administration. More than 1,200 of the so-far 8,023 Israeli fatal victims of the virus died during the fourth wave, which spurred the offering of the booster. 

According to the Health Ministry, more than 6.2 million Israelis have received at least one vaccine dose and close to 5.7 million have gotten two. Additionally, more than 3.8 million have received the booster shot. Giving the booster was prescient, as epidemiologists and virologists said it has saved many lives and is bringing about the end to the fourth wave. 

Now, a new Israeli study conducted at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and published in the prestigious Lancet Microbe journal has shown that the booster shot is highly protective. In the largest-ever study of healthy subjects – all employees of the hospital – who received the third vaccination, the level of antibodies against the virus jumped 50-fold, from a minimum level to a maximum level among 95.7% of the participants. Only two of the healthy 346 hospital employees (215 women and 131 men) who received the booster showed no increase in immunity.

The study, led by Dr. Esti Sayag – deputy director of the hospital’s information and operations systems and head of Sourasky’s vaccination efforts, was entitled “Immunogenicity of a BNT162b2 vaccine booster in health-care workers.” Dr. David Bomze of Tel Aviv University joined her in the study. The participants were tested before they received the booster shot and then 10 days after it. The median SARS-CoV-2 antibody index at baseline before the booster was 3.57, and it rose to 50 times that level to 150, the upper limit of quantification, in 95·7% of vaccine recipients

“The study demonstrates and proves the great effectiveness of the booster in restoring the level of antibodies in the blood of vaccinated people, after it has decreased significantly, several months after the second dose. The study’s findings are consistent with the decline of the fourth wave in Israel, in parallel with impressive third-dose immunizations among the general public,” declared Sayag.