Individual researchers are typically eager to make significant contributions to science and to policy. They are often supported in their efforts to do so by the institutions for which they work and the countries in which they live.
A recent article in the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research (IJHPR), analyzes the factors behind a recent surge in high quality publications by Israeli researchers, which have also informed global efforts to control the COVID-19 pandemic. This blog highlights two of those factors which may be particularly relevant for researchers, research institutions, and research authorities in other countries.
With a population of under 10 million, Israel accounts for about 0.7% of the combined population of the OECD countries. Nonetheless, between January 2021 and June 2022, articles by authors with an Israeli affiliation accounted for 15% of the papers on COVID-19 vaccines that the Web of Science has designated as Highly Cited Papers (HCPs) – articles that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and publication year. Moreover, “Israeli articles” accounted for 11% of the NEJM articles on COVID-19 vaccines and 9% of such articles in Nature Medicine. Israel’s share in all HCPs related to vaccines (of any type) increased six-fold between 2018-2019 and 2021-2022.
A related factor was Israel’s access to a steady and ample supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as a result of the “real-world epidemiological evidence collaboration agreement” between Pfizer and Israel.
Two situation-specific factors gave Israeli scientists an opportunity to launch real-world safety and efficacy studies before their counterparts in most other countries were in a position to do so. One of these was the pioneering, rapid, and highly effective vaccination campaign that Israel launched in late December 2020, immediately after the US FDA approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Clearly, one can assess the impact of an intervention until after that intervention has been implemented at scale and enough time has passed to assess its effects. A related factor was Israel’s access to a steady and ample supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as a result of the “real-world epidemiological evidence collaboration agreement” between Pfizer and Israel.
However, as we demonstrate in our IJHPR article, the prominence of Israeli researchers in the scientific literature on COVID-19 vaccines cannot be attributed solely to these two situation-specific and time-limited factors. Overall, we identify 12 factors that contributed to that prominence, and here we emphasize two of the twelve factors that we consider to be particularly relevant to other countries.
We discuss several ways in which the key research institutions quickly mobilized to support the relevant research initiatives of their scientists
The first was the capacity of Israeli scientists and scientific institutions to quickly identify and act upon a unique opportunity to inform both science and policy, in Israel and internationally. The Israeli contributions to this literature came from dozens of Israeli scientists based in a variety of Israeli research institutions. In our article we discuss several ways in which the key research institutions quickly mobilized to support the relevant research initiatives of their scientists.
A second key factor was that the Israeli government and key health care providers quickly put into place databases which integrated data on a broad range of variables vital to real-world studies of vaccine effectiveness and safety. These included individual-level data on underlying health status, the number and timing of vaccinations, confirmed cases of COVID, disease severity, hospitalizations, deaths, and more. Most of these databases integrated data from numerous sources including health plans, hospitals, laboratories, and individuals.
Researchers in all countries can be trained to take advantage of emergent research needs and opportunities.
These two factors have relevance well beyond COVID-19 and well beyond Israel. Researchers in all countries can be trained to take advantage of emergent research needs and opportunities. Research institutions can improve their capacity to quickly mobilize to support promising researcher initiatives, particularly in the case of global health emergencies. Government and health care providers around the world can improve their ability to quickly develop the integrated databases that are so important for high-quality science. Taken together these steps can help maximize the contribution of researchers around the world to science and to policy development.