Israel has effectively overcome the fifth wave of coronavirus infections, fueled by the Omicron variant, and is in the process of removing the last of the social restrictions that characterized the last two years. With that, researchers are seeing some odd, and worrying, effects on morbidity related to COVID-19 and other respiratory diseases.
Dr. Shimon Amar and doctoral student Tal Michael, researchers from the Faculty of Medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, studied the rates of infection and morbidity of non-Corona infectious diseases from before the first outbreak of COVID-19, during the two years of heavy social restrictions, and now in the brief period after mass vaccinations and the lifting of the lockdowns.
The study, reported on by Walla News, was conducted over the course of four years and followed 386,711 patients suffering various infectious diseases of the respiratory tract. Among the more troubling findings is that following the mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19, there has been a 2.64-fold increase in the diagnosis of non-Corona diseases among children aged 0-3. Among all ages there was an overall increase of 1.74 times the rate of infection prior to COVID and the measures taken to combat it.
Seeking to understand this increase, the researchers collected samples from patients at Soroka Hospital in Beershva and found that they showed a significant increase in metapneumovirus, which attacks the upper respiratory tract. Instances of severe metapneumovirus were significantly lower prior to the COVID era. There has also been a spike in infections by the RSV virus, a respiratory infection common among very young children.
“The increase in infectious disease among all sections of the population, and young children in particular, raises many questions about possible changes in our immune system,” wrote Tal Michael. “From the research data it can be concluded that the astonishing effects of simple measures such as masks and social distancing on reducing infectious morbidity should be added to the basket of policy considerations, while remembering that these measures also have question marks, and may affect our immune system upon removal.”
In other words, our immune systems adapt. And over the past two years they became used to added layers of external protection, such as masks and social distancing. With those measures now suddenly removed, our immune systems are in a weakened state compared to what they were prior to COVID. A similar effect might have been caused by the COVID vaccines.
Late last year, in the midst of Israel’s push for a third vaccine dose, a number of Israelis doctors were stressing that in most cases our body’s own immune system is far more effective at combatting COVID-19 without the vaccine.
When the government early this year started talking about a fourth vaccine shot, a top immunologist in Tel Aviv said that would be a mistake.
And as we began to slowly emerge from the Corona crisis, an Israel professor of microbiology and immunology wrote a scathing open letter demanding that the government take responsibility for what he called the unnecessary and destructive measures it took to combat COVID-19.