Israel approves 3rd COVID vaccine for the elderly, 1st country to do so

The decision comes before the approval by the FDA for the booster shot and with the questioning of top Israeli experts.

By Meira Svirsky, World Israel News  

The Israeli Ministry of Health approved on Thursday a third dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine for those over 60, giving the go-ahead to health funds to begin giving the shot as early as Sunday.

The recommendation comes before the Federal Drug Administration has approved a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which would be used for the booster dose. The unusual move was approved Wednesday night by a panel of experts.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the recommendation by the panel carries “great weight.”

“Our strategy is clear,” said Bennett. “Save lives and preserve the normal routine of the State of Israel.”

In a recent meeting with its investors, Pfizer said that their research shows that a third dose increases an individual’s antibodies by five to 11 times.

Last week, the government approved the reinstitution of the “Green Pass” program, which went into effect Thursday. The program includes the obligatory wearing of masks indoors and applies to bars, cafes, gyms, event halls, studios, hotels, tourist attractions, houses of worship, sports events and conferences, except when an individual is engaged in an activity that would preclude wearing a mask.  To enter an establishment or event with over 100 people, a Green Pass or a negative coronavirus test (taken within the last 72 hours) must be shown.

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The Delta variant has caused a surge in cases in Israel – as well as an increase in cases listed as serious, which caused health officials to recommend the new steps.

New daily infections have numbered over 2,000 since Monday with serious cases climbing from 124 to 159 in the same period. Twenty-six people are currently ventilated. However, the average number of deaths per day in the last month has remained steady at one per day.

Wednesday’s decision by the panel of experts was not unanimous, however, according to reports by the Hebrew media. Recent data coming out of Israel has shows that the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness in the general population dropped from 97 percent in April to 81 percent in July. However, among the elderly, it has reportedly dropped to 50 percent.

Yet, many health professionals have questioned that data – particularly how it was gathered — citing a conflicting report out of the UK published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which showed that the vaccine was still 88 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID infections. Israeli data has showed that the vaccine is now only 39 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID.

“The decision was based on considerable research and analysis, as well as the rise in risk of the Delta variant wave,” Bennett said in a statement to the press Thursday evening.

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“Israel has already vaccinated 2,000 immunosuppressed people with a third dose with no severe adverse events. And now we’re rolling out a national third dose campaign. We will share all the information we have with the rest of the global community as we make progress.”