One of the few confirmed cases of Omicron in Israel is that of Dr. Elad Maor, a 45-year-old cardiologist at Sheba Medical Center who recently returned from London, where he attended a three-day medical conference along with over 1,200 other professionals. Maor is convinced that he contracted the new COVID variant while in London on either the second or third day of the conference. He tested negative for COVID before leaving Israel, and then twice while in London and then again immediately upon his return. Since it takes a while for the virus levels to reach a level at which they can be detected in a PCR test, it seems probable that the conference was the source of his infection.
It was only when he began to experience typical COVID symptoms (fever, muscle aches, and a sore throat) that Maor took a fourth PCR test, which this time came back positive. In the interim, Maor had already gone back to work at Sheba, where, he says, he most likely infected a 69-year-old colleague who has since tested positive for the Omicron strain.
Both doctors were fully vaccinated – two doses of Pfizer BioNTech’s vaccine, plus a booster shot.
According to The Guardian, Maor has “nothing but praise” for the organizers of the medical conference in London, who only granted entry to fully vaccinated individuals. However, data from Public Health England has been showing for months that the likelihood of contracting COVID is actually higher in people who are fully vaccinated; in some age groups, the chances of contracting the coronavirus if a person is fully vaccinated are actually double what they would be if the person had not been vaccinated at all. A recent report from November 19 in the prestigious Lancet medical journal noted this and concluded that “it appears to be grossly negligent to ignore the vaccinated population as a possible and relevant source of transmission when deciding about public health control measures.”
With the Omicron variant now presumably spreading in Israel, quarantine regulations have been updated and now, even people who are fully vaccinated are required to self-isolate upon returning from abroad. The update came too late for Maor, who performed several catheterizations and attended at least two other large events before experiencing symptoms and deciding to get tested. All those with whom he came into close contact have been informed and are being tested.
Maor’s account is disturbing as it contradicts what many still prefer to believe; that the new strain originated in South Africa or Botswana and only then spread further afield. Israel has closed its borders to virtually the entire African continent, as well as to all foreign nationals; it may well be too late.
The Europa Group, which organized the London conference Maor attended, has since alerted all participants to the fact that one delegate has tested positive for the new coronavirus variant.
“All protocols mandated by the UK government were put in place,” a spokesperson said. “Anyone entering the congress center had to present a valid health pass and were requested to wear a mask. Hydro-alcoholic gel and masks were made readily available for all participants and disposal bins for used protective equipment were provided.”
For his part, Maor remains a staunch proponent of vaccines and utilized the opportunity of his Guardian interview to urge people to get vaccinated and also a booster shot if eligible. “I am sure that my disease could have been worse if not for the vaccine,” he said.