Two Israelis who contracted but recovered from the novel coronavirus have since been reinfected with a concerning coronavirus variant that was first identified in South Africa, according to the county’s Health Ministry.
Overall, Isreal has now reported three such cases of a resident being reinfected with the South African variant, known as B.1.351, the Washington Post reported, citing Isreal’s Health Ministry.
At least 44 cases of the B.1.251 variant have been reported in Isreal to date, though health officials have said the total number of such cases is likely higher. The country’s first case of the South African variant was reported in late January in a 57-year-old man who contracted the mutation while on a trip to Turkey, per the Post.
Soon after, Israel closed its only international airport, Ben Gurion, in an effort “to prevent the entry of the virus mutations and to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January, the Post reported. The airport is expected to remain closed past the Feb. 20 deadline.
Variants have been causing some concern among experts, particularly pertaining to vaccine efficacy. Several studies have found that the South Africa variant impacts vaccines’ ability to produce antibodies, although not enough to consider the jab useless.
As a result, several vaccine manufacturers are exploring potential booster shots or preparing to make tweaks to their products to better protect against variants.
Since launching its COVID-19 vaccine campaign in December, Israel has boasted some of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with many countries looking at the Israeli experience to understand what may lie ahead in the future.
To date, over a quarter of the population — 2.5 million people — have received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to the Health Ministry. Over 42% have received the first shot.
But in a cause for concern, Israel has seen a drop in immunization rates since making the vaccine available to everyone over the age of 16 this month.
In February, Israel averaged just over 106,000 vaccinations per day, down from January’s daily average of more than 127,000 per day, according to Health Ministry statistics.
The reluctance of some groups in the population to get vaccinated is a key reason why infection rates remain high.
Israel, a country of 9.3 million people, has reported over 5,000 new cases each day over the past week, according to the ministry. In all, the country has recorded over 723,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and nearly 5,400 deaths — over 20% of them in the past month.
Fox News’ Alexandria Hein and the Associated Press contributed to this report.