Early studies in Israel have found that coronavirus vaccines can reduce infection rates by up to 60 per cent in those who have received their first jab, as the country's health minister stressed there was still a need for extreme caution.
According to Israeli broadcaster Channel 12, preliminary research by healthcare provider Maccabi said the first dose of the vaccine reduced the risk of catching coronavirus by 60 per cent after 14 days.
A similar study by Clalit, another Israeli healthcare provider, put the figure somewhat lower at 33 per cent after testing 200,000 citizens who had received their first vaccination.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Yuli Edelstein, the country's health minister, said Israelis needed to stay vigilant as there was still a risk of catching the virus within two weeks of receiving a jab.
"Those who are getting the first shot should still be very, very cautious about their behaviour, due to the partial resistance to the disease," Mr Edelstein said.
"In my imagination, it's like the scene from the movie where you nearly escape the danger, and at the very last moment you catch a bullet."
He added: "It shows what we have already known, which is that the full 95 per cent protection comes after two shots."
The findings will raise hopes that the vaccines can not only protect people from coronavirus but also stop them from spreading it, though Israeli officials stressed it was too early to be sure at this stage.
The Clalit study compared test results for the vaccinated group of 200,000 people with a sample of 200,000 Israelis who had not received the vaccine.
The full details of the studies have not yet been published or peer reviewed. “The graphs diverge on day 14 with a 33 per cent decline among the vaccinated elderly, without a similar trend among the unvaccinated,” Ran Balicer, the founding director of the Clalit Research Institute, said in a statement.
Israel has already given the first coronavirus jab to more than two million people - around 20 per cent of the population - as part of the world’s fastest vaccinations programme. The campaign focuses on elderly Israelis and those with underlying health conditions but was updated this week to include the over-50s.
The 24/7 programme, which even runs vaccinations on the Jewish holy day of Shabbat, is being bolstered by hundreds of Israeli combat medics who have been called up on reserve duty. However, the rate of infection remains high in Israel, breaking a new daily record of 9,500 on Monday, as the country grapples with its third nationwide lockdown.