israel travel restrictions
Israelis and vaccinated tourists get tested for COVID-19 upon arrival to Israel's Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on May 23, 2021.
Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images
  • Israel's COVID-19 infection rate has doubled in the past two weeks.
  • The country is seeing a new surge in cases despite early success with the Pfizer vaccine.
  • The protection afforded by vaccines may wane over time, especially for older groups.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Israel, once a global leader in coronavirus containment, has one of the highest daily infection rates in the world.

Nearly one in every 150 people in Israel today has the virus. An average of nearly 7,500 people are infected per day – double the infection rate of two weeks ago.

The new surge has Israeli leaders scrambling to bring back mask mandates and restrict gatherings as case rates come close to the worst days of last winter.

Globally, scientists are studying infection rates among Israel's vaccinated to understand how the vaccine holds up over time. The findings have not been encouraging, setting off a wave of booster panic around the world.

Israel's immunity dipped in the face of Delta

Nearly 80% of Israeli adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which constitutes 58% of the country's relatively young population, according to NPR.

Over half of the population was fully vaccinated by March 25, and for a moment, it looked like the country was on its way to herd immunity.

But the rising case rates in Israel may indicate that the protection afforded by vaccines wanes over time. Health officials and Pfizer scientists noted a lapse in protection six to eight months after the second shot, which was timed right around the Delta variant's arrival in Israel this summer.

Half of the seriously ill COVID patients currently hospitalized in Israel were fully vaccinated five or more months ago. Most of them are over 60 years old and have comorbidities, putting them at a higher risk of developing severe illness.

Boosters could bolster protection for older population

Along with renewed efforts to encourage mask-wearing and restrict gatherings, Israel is fighting back the virus by offering booster shots to older adults.

Israel rolled out its booster campaign at the start of August. Adults aged 60 and older who completed their vaccine course at least five months ago are now eligible for a third Pfizer-BioNTech shot.

Israel's move to begin offering boosters set off a wave of wealthy countries doing the same. The US, the UK, Germany, and France are all either prepared or approved to start rolling out booster shots in September.

The vaccines are still effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19 in most groups, so some experts argue it makes more sense to focus on vaccinating the unvaccinated.

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