Israel has registered eight cases of a coronavirus variant first identified in India and believes that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is at least partially effective against it, an Israeli health official said on Tuesday. An initial seven cases of the Indian variant were detected in Israel last week among people arriving from abroad and who have since undergone preliminary testing, the Health Ministry of Israel said.
“The impression is that the Pfizer vaccine has efficacy against it, albeit a reduced efficacy,” the ministry’s director-general, Hezi Levy, told Kan public radio, saying the number of cases of the variant in Israel now stood at eight.
The ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for more details on the research into the Indian variant.
Britain and Ireland have said they are investigating the variant after detecting it within their borders.
The B.1.617 or “double mutant” Indian variant carries two mutations including the L452R and E484Q which have been seen separately before in other variants but never together in one variant.
The L425R mutation which has been spotted in fast-spreading variants in California can reportedly increase the binding power of the virus’ spike proteins with human cells, making it more transmissible and can also potentially increase viral replication.
The E484Q is reportedly similar to the E484K mutation found in the U.K. and South African variants of the coronavirus which have shown to lower the effectiveness of antibodies generated by a vaccine or a previous bout of Covid-19.
Experts in India have expressed concern about the purported high transmissibility of double mutant variant as almost 60% of all positive cases in India’s Covid-19 epicentre, Maharashtra, have been caused by the B.1.617 variant.
The concerning variant has now also been detected in several countries including the U.K., US, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and several others prompting travel bans and or advisories.
Israel on Tuesday registered eight cases caused by the Indian variant — mostly among people arriving from abroad — and reported that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine “has efficacy against it, albeit a reduced efficacy,” Reuters reported.
Israel, whose population is 9.3 million, has fully vaccinated around 81% of citizens or residents over the age of 16. Covid-19 infections and hospitalisations are down sharply.