Israel to start human trials on COVID-19 vaccine in October

What happened: Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced yesterday that the Israeli national laboratory will begin testing its coronavirus vaccine on human subjects in mid-October.

  • The political echelon has posed to the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Ness Ziona (IIBR) a target of reaching, within eight months, the production of 11 million vaccine doses against the pandemic. The state seeks vaccine doses for all of the country’s residents, and it is also preparing to transfer vaccines to the Palestinians.
  • The director of IIBR, Prof. Shmuel Shapira, said: “We have a terrific vaccine. There are regulatory processes that the vaccine needs to go through in order to meet the timetable you [Gantz] laid out. We are starting after the [September] holidays with safety and efficiency tests, but we have the product in our hands”. However, media reports suggest that the IIBR lags behind companies around the world in the race to develop a vaccine.
  • Brig. Gen. Nissan Davidi will lead the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) so-called Coronavirus Command, which is specifically tasked with breaking the chain of infection by improving the country’s testing capacity to find carriers of the disease. The IDF aim to significantly increase the number of tests that are done each day, as well as decrease the waiting time for receiving results.
  • According to Health Ministry data this morning, 1,672 new coronavirus cases were recorded in the last 24 hours. The number of confirmed patients now stands at 24,220, with 778 hospitalizations with 358 in seirous condition and 102 on ventilators.

Context: Last month, Channel 12 News reported that the IIBR had made significant progress on the vaccine, achieving nearly 100 percent efficacy in animals.

  • The vaccine under development is on par in effectiveness with a vaccine being developed by US biotechnology company Moderna.
  • According to a report by the Intelligence Ministry, schools were responsible for up to 20 per cent of the infection rate among the general population during the first month of the disease’s spread. “This figure is expected to gradually decline afterwards,” the paper projected. It also said that high schools and middle schools were responsible for about half of the increase in the infection rate; and that once the schools were opened, the effect would likely last for months.
  • Another report by the Intelligence Ministry, on behalf of the Defence Ministry, examined scenarios for future waves of the coronavirus. Their report warns each wave could recur in one or all of these five scenarios: Lifting lockdowns prematurely, returning to “normal” too fast; Import from abroad; A decline in the use of protective measures (masks, social distancing, personal hygiene); Mutation of the coronavirus; and seasonality (for instance, winter propensity to flu on top of coronavirus).
  • Earlier this week the Government approved around 20,000 foreign students  to enter Israel at the start of the academic year, more than half of whom are coming to study at religious seminaries, the other will study at university and other gap year programmes.

Looking ahead: Education Minister Yoav Gallant has announced that his aim is to open schools on 1 September.

  • He said during a press conference: “The time to prepare is short, and mission is very complex. The opening of the school year will be filled with difficulties. We’ll face every difficulty.”
  • According to the plan, 13,000 new teacher and teacher’s aide positions will be added to the school system, while teachers will be trained on how to best make use of remote studies platforms.
  • The opening of the school system in early September whilst the current rate of infection remains high will be a major test for the IDF and government.
  • Israel currently faces one of the highest rate of contagion in the world per capita, but is still looking to avoid re-imposing a full lockdown.

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