Opinion: Vaccines will not be available to the entire population in the near future despite the prime minister’s exultant announcement and the reopening of schools for more children comes with risks that are not yet understood

Tuesday’s news on the coronavirus pandemic was a mixture of optimism that the end is in sight and concern that great danger still lies ahead.

On the same day that American pharmaceutical company Moderna Inc announced its COVID-19 vaccine was 94.5% effective and closer than ever to U.S. government approval, Israel saw the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to rise and its R factor (the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus to) surpass 1, indicating further community spread.

Researchers work in a lab run by Moderna Inc
Researchers work in a lab run by Moderna Inc (Photo: Reuters)


Meanwhile, ministers approved the end to more restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, allowing malls to reopen and more students to return to school.

The reported success of Pfizer and Moderna in their vaccine trials can bring hope for a breakthrough in the battle against the virus, with Israel already having a contractual agreement with both.

But the news from the United States should be taken with a grain of salt. There is still a long road ahead before Israelis can nip over to their local healthcare provider and get their immunization shots.

Even if the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems the vaccines safe and effective enough to be granted emergency authorization for use, it will be months at best before there are enough doses to contain the pandemic.

שגב הראל
A volunteer receives a trial Israeli vaccine for COVID-19 (Photo: Defense Ministry)


Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promises, Israel will likely not be first in line to receive these most sought-after vaccines.

The possible delays and problems in vaccine dissemination cannot yet be imagined, starting with mutations of the virus that may change the efficacy of the vaccine, or the possible long-term side effects that could manifest after a great number of people had already been inoculated.

There is no doubt that we are headed in the right direction, but the potential solution we are all seeking may still be a long way off.

On the other hand, Israel’s move to resume school attendance for more children is hardly cause for celebration. These students are being sent back to school due to public pressure and with much still apparently unknown about the effects expected on morbidity, due to conflicting reports by medical experts.

חזרה ללימודים בבית הספר גבריאלי בתל אביב
Children wearing masks return to school after the first lockdown in May (Photo: Moti Kimchi)


Some researchers believe that schools play a minimal role in increasing morbidity from COVID-19, while keeping children out of class has shown to cause more damage.

Others, however, believe that returning children to school should be done in a phased manner and only when the R factor is below one, which is not currently the case.

Data provided by the Weizmann Institute’s computational biologist, Professor Eran Segal, shows the resumption of studies in grades one and two a fortnight ago did not cause a dramatic increase in cases.

But the reopening of religious Jewish schools in mid-August and state schools two weeks later did have an adverse effect on the spread of the virus, confirming a need for mitigation efforts among older students.

This combination of good and bad news reflects the reality of the times – highs and lows with much still unknown.

בנימין נתניהו ויולי אדלשטיין מודיעים על השלמת ההסכם לרכישת החיסונים מפייזר
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Ministry Yuli Edelstein announce an agreement with Pfizer for its vaccine (Photo: GPO)


This reality demands a caution that contradicts the prime minister’s victorious tone in his announcement Monday that a vaccine was about to become available to Israelis.

Such proclamations are nothing more than wishful thinking and could lead the public into dangerous territory if people believe a solution to the virus is imminent and decide to throw caution to the wind.

The only solutions for now are still wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and practicing good hygiene.

As reported by Ynetnews