By Maayan Lubell
JERUSALEM (Reuters) -The Pfizer-BioNTech >PFE.N< vaccine is highly effective against the Delta variant of COVID-19, a Pfizer official in Israel said on Thursday.
First identified in India, Delta is becoming the globally dominant variant of the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.
"The data we have today, accumulating from research we are conducting at the lab and including data from those places where the Indian variant, Delta, has replaced the British variant as the common variant, point to our vaccine being very effective, around 90%, in preventing the coronavirus disease, COVID-19," Alon Rappaport, Pfizer's medical director in Israel, told local broadcaster Army Radio.
A study by researchers from the University of Texas together with Pfizer and BioNtech and published this month by Nature journal found that antibodies elicited by the vaccine were still able to neutralize all tested variants, including Delta, albeit at reduced strength.
"We continue to synthesize viruses in our labs and with collaborators as we see new variants emerge so we can conduct testing to obtain the most information we can about our vaccine’s impact on neutralisation of emerging strains," a Pfizer spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.
Other recent studies have also shown the vaccine is likely to provide high protection against the variant.
Israel has one of the world's most advanced vaccination campaigns largely based on the Pfizer-BioNTech shot. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at Israel's Health Ministry, said that Israel still lacks enough data to provide insight into vaccine effectiveness against the Delta variant.
"We are collecting the data now. We are only now seeing the first cases of the Delta variant in Israel - about 200 of those - so we will know more soon," she told reporters on Wednesday.
An analysis by Public Health England (PHE), where the Delta variant is more widespread, found that both the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines provide more than 90% protection against hospitalization from the Delta variant.
In Israel, more than half the 9.3 million population has received both Pfizer shots and a steep drop in cases has prompted authorities to lift most coronavirus restrictions.
But confirmed cases have risen in the past few days and health authorities have urged parents to vaccinate their 12-to 15-year-olds, who were made eligible this month.
Alroy-Preis said around 65% of Israel's population was protected against COVID-19, either by vaccination or by recovering from the disease, a figure she said was still far from providing "herd immunity."
(Additional reporting by Steven Scheer and Christine Soares in New YorkEditing by Mark Potter and Frances Kerry)