On July 20, the French Health Ministry proclaimed a “fourth wave” of coronavirus infections “increasing at an unprecedented rate.” France reported more than 18,000 new infections in 24 hours, the highest number since an earlier wave subsided in May, according to World Health Organization tracking.
On July 13, French President Emmanuel Macron announced compulsory vaccination for health workers and mandatory vaccination passes for access to public venues and events. The measures to curb the pandemic also include foreign travel restrictions and 10 days of self-isolation for those who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Like France, many countries with high vaccination rates face a resurgence of coronavirus infections thought to be caused by the delta variant, a virus mutation first discovered in India last winter.
Scientists suggest the delta variant is 60 times more contagious compared to other mutations.
Some ongoing studies also suggest that existing vaccines are less effective against the delta variant than they were against the original virus and its earlier mutations. This information has caused confusion among the vaccine hesitant and rejuvenated disinformation campaigns by vaccine critics.
On July 17, thousands protested across France against the latest mandatory COVID-19 measures.
The Associated Press reported that many protesters had answered a call from Florian Philippot, a far-right French politician and aspiring 2022 presidential candidate.
France24 reported that Philippot was on the radical side of COVID-19 disinformation and vaccination conspiracy theories that fueled the protests. During a rally in Paris, Philippot invited on stage a man who ripped up his vaccination card as thousands roared in approval, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
On July 16, a day before the protests in France, Philippot tweeted: “Vaccinated people represent 4% of positive cases in France. But 47% in the UK. And 50% in Israel. It's statistically impossible!”
That claim is misleading.
Nearly all current statistics on post-vaccination infections are based on limited preliminary studies – and, in some cases, on raw data collected from the mobile applications that allow users to voluntarily report symptoms.
A search of the World Health Organization’s coronavirus pandemic portal for “post-vaccination infections” returns no results. The three countries Philippot mentioned in his tweet are among those experiencing a caseload spike from the delta variant. What follows is context to put the situations in those three countries in perspective.
On July 19, the French government said adjustments were being made to the initial COVID-19 restrictions that President Macron announced a week earlier. While the coronavirus pass for access to public places and vaccination of health workers remain mandatory, the authorities lowered the fines imposed on businesses that allow customers to access their venues without COVID-19 passes.
About 80% of recent infections in France were among people who had either taken one vaccine dose (two are required for some vaccines) or had not been vaccinated, French health minister Oliver Veran said on July 15.
“When you are vaccinated, you are four times less likely to catch COVID,” Veran said. People who received two shots accounted for up to 6% of new coronavirus infections and 4% of symptomatic cases, according to a study by the French Directorate of Research, Studies, Evaluation and Statistics.
Getting vaccinated does not prevent people from being infected. However, public health authorities worldwide say it offers strong protection against hospitalization and death, including from the delta variant. (In the United States, the delta variant now accounts for 8 in 10 new infections, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.)
Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2019, France has had 5,753,579 confirmed infections and 110,513 deaths.
The French health authorities have administered more than 60 million vaccine doses, with about 46 million people, or roughly 90% of adults, having received the one dose and some 36 million, or two-thirds of adults, having received two shots.
In the U.K., Philippot said, vaccinated people make up to 47% of new COVID-19 positive cases. That number matches the percentage reported by the Daily Mail on July 15. However, Philippot failed to mention that the 47% figure is based on a study of data collected via a COVID-19 mobile application developed by the British technology firm ZOE.
Moreover, the findings rely on voluntarily reported symptoms, and the ZOE app counts as “vaccinated” those who merely identify themselves as such, including those who only received one dose, “even though they are not yet fully protected by two doses,” the Daily Mail said.
The U.K. public health authority has no data on post-vaccination infections on its website.
On July 18, the U.K. lifted all pandemic restrictions, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging people to remain cautious.
On July 21, the U.K. reported nearly 40,000 new infections and 19 deaths over the previous 24 hours, a total of 5.5 million confirmed infections and129,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
About 80 million vaccine doses have been administered in the U.K., with more than 46 million people, or roughly 90% of adults, having received one jab and about 36 million, or two-thirds of adults, two shots.
On July 18, Israeli authorities reinstated public restrictions to curb a new spike of coronavirus infections from the rapidly spreading delta variant.
Some 891 Israelis tested positive for coronavirus in June, the head of the Israeli Public Health Services, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Pries, told The Jerusalem Post on June 27. Of those, 50% were “fully vaccinated,” which is “expected,” since more than 88% of the country’s population has been fully vaccinated.
The spike of new cases in Israel continued through July, sparking a surge of misinformation and “totally misleading” conclusions, The Jerusalem Post reported on July 20. The newspaper consulted health officials and experts, saying that “the number to look at is not the absolute number of vaccinated patients who are infected with COVID, but rather the rate.”
According to The Jerusalem Post, a more accurate picture of post-vaccination infections and hospitalizations shows that only between 1.2% and 1.6% of the newly infected people who were fully vaccinated prior catching the virus develop severe disease. In comparison, 3.9% to 4.3% of people who were not vaccinated before becoming infected developed severe disease. That means 0.01% of vaccinated people end up seriously, ill as opposed to 0.1% of unvaccinated people.
While Israeli health authorities reported that the Pfizer vaccine, which is the main vaccine used in the country, is less effective against the delta variant, it is still about 90% effective in preventing the virus from causing serious illness.
Since the start of the outbreak, Israel reported more than 852,000 confirmed COVID-19 infections and 6,450 deaths, the WHO reports. Nearly 11 million vaccine doses have been administered, with 5.7 million Israelis having received one shot and the rest both doses.
On July 20, Israel reported 351 new cases and zero deaths.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies infections reported 14 days after completed vaccination as “breakthrough cases” and monitors such occurrences. Such cases are “expected” but “rare,” the CDC says.
Unlike in some other countries, the CDC provides public access to such reports on its website. Its most recent data on vaccine breakthrough cases covers the period before April 30, 2021. The report cites 10,262 vaccine breakthrough infections, of which 27% of those infected (2,725 cases) did not have symptoms, 10% (995) were hospitalized and 2% (160) died.
However, the CDC cautioned that the report’s data is “limited” since it “relies on passive and voluntary reporting” and a majority of serious cases and deaths were unrelated to coronavirus infection.
On July 8, Pfizer said that studies showed the efficacy of its vaccine may wane after six to 12 months and that a third shot may be needed to “boost” protection against evolving variants. But the World Health Organization questioned the necessity of a third shot, citing “limited data available on how long the protection from current doses lasts.”
Since its discovery in China in the fall of 2019, 191 million people worldwide have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants, and more than 4 million of them have died.