Israel is set to start administering a fourth dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as early as Sunday after the health ministry's advisory committee recommended an additional booster shot for the over-60s, people with compromised immune systems and healthcare workers.
The committee recommended that the extra booster shot be given to people who qualify four months after receiving the third vaccine dose, and the government is expected to endorse the recommendation in coming days.
Prime minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the recommendation, ordering immediate preparations for administering the fourth dose.
“This is wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world,” he said, as he urged people to take up the offer. “We need to make sure that we are trail-blazers in this new wave of infection, just as we were in the previous wave of infection.”
Prof Galia Rahav, who heads Tel Aviv Sheba hospital’s infectious diseases unit and is a member of an expert panel, said the decision to recommend the extra booster was “not simple” given the paucity of data showing that the protection offered by the third shot was waning. “But at the same time there are terribly frightening numbers from what is happening in the wider world,” she said, referring to the fast-spreading Omicron strain.
At least 340 people have tested positive for the Omicron variant in Israel. Health ministry officials said that while infection with the Omicron variant currently accounted for between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of all coronavirus infections in Israel, they anticipate that Omicron will be the dominant variant in the country within two weeks.
Despite concerns about the spreading Omicron variant, Israel’s coronavirus cabinet has decided not to impose any new restrictions on public gatherings at this juncture.
Finance minister Avigdor Liberman noted the low number of Omicron fatalities worldwide.
“As far as Omicron goes at the moment I’m not seeing that it’s having more effect than the flu. Like we live with the flu, we’re living with Omicron,” he said, adding “I don’t think that at the moment it’s right to take steps like restricting public gatherings. There’s no justification for that. It puts us back to having to pay compensation.”
Despite being amongst the first countries to roll out a nationwide vaccination and booster campaign, only about 63 per cent of Israel’s population of 9.3 million has had two doses.
Israel announced in November that children aged over five could also get the jab but most parents remain reluctant to grant permission.
Israel has already introduced a strict travel ban preventing citizens travelling to the vast majority of countries and banning foreigners from visiting Israel.