One such outbreak occurred in the city of Beit She'an in northern Israel. A report by the Jewish News Syndicate said the Israeli Ministry of Health ordered attendees of a June 17 indoor concert there to get tested for COVID-19 and quarantine themselves. The ministry's June 20 order followed one of the audience members testing positive for COVID-19.
The health ministry said the source of the infection was still under investigation – but is purportedly connected to an individual who recently returned from abroad. It added that investigations are still underway whether the new cases involve the highly infectious Delta variant. Also called the B16172 strain, the Delta variant was first identified in India and has since spread to more than 80 countries.
Outbreaks also occurred in schools at the northern town of Binyamina-Giv'at Ada and the central city of Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut. In response, Ministry of Health Director-General Hezi Levi signed a mask mandate for schools in the two areas – in both open and closed spaces. Levi signed the order on June 20.
But health experts in the Jewish-majority country did not express concern over the matter. Professor Eyal Leshem of the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer said: "As long as we have travel inside and outside of Israel, then we will have outbreaks among people – vaccinated and unvaccinated – and primarily among students."
Computational biologist Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science seconded Leshem's remarks, saying that outbreaks were "not surprising." Tomer Lotan, head of the country's national coronavirus task force, meanwhile said he does not expect the latest COVID-19 outbreaks to prompt a change in the Ministry of Health's current policy.
While the outbreaks are still under investigation, speculation that the Delta strain was responsible for the new cases has emerged. According to Israel's Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center, the new variant is 60 percent more contagious than the British B117 strain. It also causes more than twice the amount of hospitalizations than the British variant, the center added in its June 20 report.
Israeli health officials emphasized that the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine appears to be highly effective against the Delta variant. They pointed out that the vaccine stopped the onset of severe COVID-19. More than 5.4 million Israelis received the two-dose vaccine in the country's widely-praised mass inoculation program. (Related: In Israel, refusing coronavirus vaccination means your life is over.)
Leshem remarked that the latest COVID-19 outbreaks at Beit She'an, Binyamina-Giv'at Ada and Modi'in-Maccabim-Re'ut "tell us that this is what the future is going to look like." He added: "People who are unvaccinated can get infected, and people who are fully vaccinated could get infected – but will be protected from severe disease. Leshem further noted that the outbreaks do not pose a risk to public health as more than 90 percent of Israelis older than 50 had already been vaccinated.
But Cyrille Cohen of Bar-Ilan University said that as many as one-third of people infected during the recent COVID-19 outbreaks were inoculated. Currently, around 35 percent of eligible Israelis are not vaccinated against the disease. Leshem said he hopes the outbreaks will convince them to get inoculated.
Israeli authorities claim the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine offers protection against the Delta variant. But this may have contributed to the spread of COVID-19 by making more people susceptible to contracting different variants.
A study done by researchers from Tel Aviv University and Israeli healthcare provider Clalit Health Services examined the two-dose vaccine and found that it increased the risk of people catching Wuhan coronavirus variants of concern. (Related: Israeli panel concludes Pfizer covid vaccine "probably" causes heart inflammation, especially in young people.)
They found that the South African B1351 variant was eight times more prevalent in people who completed the two-dose vaccination schedule. The researchers also found that the British B117 variant was more prevalent in those who received one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
Lead researcher Dr. Adi Stern said: "We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. Based on patterns in the general population, we would have expected just one case of the [B1351] variant, but we saw eight."