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Israel starts campaign for third booster dose to elderly

Prime Minister Bennett and President Herzog start the campaign to receive the third dose booster of the vaccine, credit: Haim Zach (GPO)

The Israeli government decided yesterday to give a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine for people over 60 starting on Sunday.

The new vaccination programme started on Friday morning with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog receiving the third dose against the corona virus at Chaim Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv.

The decision follows an increase in daily infections in July due to the Delta variant despite one of the world’s highest vaccination rates with over 57 % of the population having received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Among those over 40, the vaccination is reportedly 80 %. This might still not be enough to achieve group immunity.

This week, the number of cases per day exceeded 2,000 and the number of seriously ill people at hospitals increased although they still are far below the figures in previous waves. The majority of severe case were among unvaccinated people. Most hospitalised people are also released sooner than before.

However, preliminary evidence appears to show that the vaccine’s effectiveness is decreasing by time among those 60 and older although it is not clear by how much. Experts advising the government recommended giving a third shot but disagreed whether it should be given to people older than 60, 65 or 70. Israel decided not take any risks and wait for any US emergency authorisation for a third shot or Pfizer’s own recommendation.

The intention is to keep the economy open and avoid any new lockdowns as in previous waves. For the time being, masks are compulsory in public transport and in closed spaces and mass gatherings limited. The government has also decided on stricter enforcement of test- and quarantine rules for travellers at Ben Gurion international airport.

According to the EU expert agencies, EMA and ECDC, it is currently too early to confirm if and when a booster dose for COVID-19 vaccines will be needed, because there is not yet enough data from vaccination campaigns and ongoing studies to understand how long protection from the vaccines will last, also considering the spread of variants.

“We are embarking on the vaccines campaign to safeguard the older population in the State of Israel,” the Prime Minister said.  “From today there is a new mitzvah (religious duty): “Vaccinate your father and your mother that they may live long.”

When Israel started its vaccination campaign in December last year, it became a laboratory and shared real data on the impact of the vaccination with the vaccine producer Pfizer and the rest of the world. The Israeli Prime-Minister promised that data will be shared again.

“The fight against the COVID pandemic is a global fight. The only way we can defeat COVID is together. Together means sharing information. Together means sharing methods, technologies, insights and actionable steps. Israel is open to share all the information that we can gain from this bold move, and we’re going to win – but together.”

The Brussels Times