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A Palestinian who works in Israel receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Tarkumiya crossing between the West Bank and Israel, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP) A Palestinian who works in Israel receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Tarkumiya crossing between the West Bank and Israel, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP)

A Palestinian who works in Israel receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the Tarkumiya crossing between the West Bank and Israel, Monday, March 8, 2021. (AP)

Monique Curet
By Monique Curet August 2, 2021

Reinfection rates do not tell the whole story about protection against COVID-19

If Your Time is short

• Comparing COVID-19 reinfection rates among the unvaccinated and vaccinated to gauge protection against the virus ignores the dangers of contracting COVID-19 and the protections against severe illness that vaccines provide. 

• Among Israelis who were fully vaccinated and experienced breakthrough infections, COVID-19 vaccines were 88% effective in preventing hospitalization and 91% effective against severe illness. 

• Israel’s early vaccine campaign that resulted in more than 60% of its population being fully vaccinated has led to huge reductions in serious cases and deaths in the country. 

Israel led the world with its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, launching in December 2020 and quickly vaccinating the majority of those over age 60. Because of its early vaccine rollout, the country has been a bellwether for COVID-19 immunization outcomes.

So the world took notice when COVID-19 cases began to rise this summer among vaccinated Israelis, and vaccine critics took aim. 

"Thanks to (Israel's) sacrifice, we now know that natural immunity is far superior with 1% experiencing re-infection while 40% of new cases were previously vx'd," read one viral Facebook post

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

 

The figures in the statement appear to be based on media reports, but they lack important context. As of late July, vaccinated people represented a higher percentage of new COVID-19 cases in Israel than those who are unvaccinated. But among Israelis who were fully vaccinated and experienced breakthrough infections, the COVID-19 vaccine was 88% effective in preventing the need for hospitalization and 91% effective against severe illness. 

Comparing reinfection rates to gauge protection against the virus, as the claim does, ignores the dangers of contracting COVID-19, which is how natural immunity occurs. Israel’s data from January and July shows the differences in risk for an unvaccinated and vaccinated population. 

In January, when the country’s vaccine campaign was still in its early stages and infections were peaking, there were 1,100 patients in serious condition. On July 25 — with the country facing a new outbreak fueled by the delta variant, but with more than 60% of its population vaccinated — serious cases numbered 101. 

Featured Fact-check

In January, Israel recorded 1,471 deaths from COVID-19, compared with 49 deaths in the month ended Aug. 2.

Now, about 1.6% of cases in Israel become critically ill, compared with 4% during an earlier wave of cases when vaccine coverage was low, according to a tweet by Eran Segal, a scientist at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science who tracks COVID-19 data. 

The Facebook post was an image of a July 17 tweet by Del Bigtree, chief executive officer of Informed Consent Action Network, a U.S. anti-vaccination group, who has spread misinformation before. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bigtree has made misleading claims about the risks to children of wearing masks and spread other false claims about the virus. 

Our ruling

A Facebook post claimed, "Thanks to (Israel's) sacrifice, we now know that natural immunity is far superior with 1% experiencing re-infection while 40% of new cases were previously vx'd."

The figures lack important context. Calling natural immunity "far superior" ignores the dangers of contracting COVID-19, which is how natural immunity occurs. And the claim ignores the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing hospitalization and severe illness. 

Data shows that among Israelis who experienced breakthrough infections, COVID-19 vaccines were 88% effective against hospitalization and 91% effective against severe illness. And with a majority of its population vaccinated, Israel has seen huge reductions in serious cases and deaths. 

The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate this claim Mostly False. 

Our Sources

AFP Fact Check, "Flawed experiments exaggerate risk from CO2 concentration in masks," July 22, 2020

AFP Fact Check, "Mass Covid-19 vaccination will not lead to ‘out of control’ variants," April 1, 2021

Associated Press, "Posts mislead on Israel vaccine data," July 23, 2021

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Complications of measles," accessed Aug. 2, 2021

CNBC, "Israel says Pfizer Covid vaccine is just 39% effective as delta spreads, but still prevents severe illness," July 23, 2021

Facebook post, July 28, 2021

John Hopkins University of Medicine, Coronavirus Resource Center, "Israel," accessed on Aug. 1, 2021

NBC News, "Israel sees drop in Pfizer Covid vaccine protection, still strong in severe illness," July 6, 2021

Times of Israel, "Are recovered COVID patients more protected than the vaccinated?" July 12, 2021

Times of Israel, "Serious COVID cases in Israel top 100, for first time in 3 months," July 25, 2021

Twitter post, July 16, 2021

Twitter post, July 17, 2021

The Washington Post, "Meet the New York couple donating millions to the anti-vax movement," June 19, 2019

The Washington Post, "Vaccine doubters’ strange fixation with Israel," July 22, 2021

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More by Monique Curet

Reinfection rates do not tell the whole story about protection against COVID-19

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