Israel to begin giving Covid vaccine booster shots to over-60s

Third jabs to be rolled out from Sunday as data shows vaccine’s effectiveness wanes over time

Verona Radosh (92) being vaccinated against coronavirus in Tel Aviv last December. Photograph:  Amir Levy/Getty Images

Verona Radosh (92) being vaccinated against coronavirus in Tel Aviv last December. Photograph: Amir Levy/Getty Images

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Israelis aged 60 and over will be able to receive a third Covid-19 jab from this Sunday, provided that five months have passed since they received their second dose, making Israel the first country to introduce a booster shot.

Israel, which was one of first countries to vaccinate most of its adult population with two vaccine doses, took the decision on Thursday after a team of health experts advising the government gave the green light in an effort to curb the spread of the Delta variant.

So far Israelis have been given only the Pfizer vaccine, but it is not yet clear if the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine will be used for booster shots.

Data indicated that the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing infection and serious illness wanes as time passes. It is estimated that for people 60 and older, the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness has dropped from 97 per cent to 81 per cent.

“Eighty-one per cent is still effective, but the gap is dramatic,” tweeted Prof Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science. “Because if previously the chance of a vaccinated person aged 60+ getting seriously ill was 3%, now it is 19%, which means six times more.”

“Our strategy is clear,” said prime minister Naftali Bennett. “To safeguard life, and to safeguard daily routine in Israel.”

Israel’s elderly population was first to get vaccinated as part of the country’s vaccine rollout.

Representatives of the country’s assisted living facilities have been told that the shots would be immediately administered at their homes from Sunday.

Criticism

A number of health ministry officials and some experts are uncomfortable with the decision to administer a third dose in the absence of United States Food and Drug (FDA) approval and adequate data that would prove its safety and efficacy.

They argue that the right course of action at present is to focus efforts on vaccinating the roughly one million people in Israel over the age of 12 who have yet to be vaccinated.

“The health ministry finds itself forced to vaccinate the elderly because the current government won’t allow it to impose restrictions, and that is the only thing that it has left in its toolbox,” Dr Oren Kobiler, an immunologist who teaches at Tel Aviv University’s medical school, told the Walla News website.

Health officials who back the move noted that data collected from at-risk groups in Israel and other countries who have received a third dose indicates that a booster shot does not cause unusual side effects, while increasing the amount of antibodies in recipients’ bodies by five to 10 times.

Israel has so far fully vaccinated more than 60 per cent of its total population of 9.2 million.