A panel of Israeli health experts has voted to recommend a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose for citizens aged 60 and older, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett already urging residents to get the shot ahead of formal approval.
A Health Ministry body known as the pandemic treatment staff voted for the additional dose on Tuesday, recommending the move by a wide margin, according to the Times of Israel. In addition to the elderly, other high-risk groups and medical workers were also recommended for the extra booster, which still requires official authorization from the ministry.
Nonetheless, PM Bennett wasted little time before urging the groups in question to receive their fourth shots, saying Tuesday’s vote was “great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world,” referring to the latest coronavirus ‘variant of concern’ identified by the World Health Organization.
“I call on everyone who meets the criteria set by the committee members: get vaccinated. Take responsibility for the health and livelihood of us all. Vaccines save lives,” Bennett added.
If formally approved, citizens eligible for the extra shot will be required to wait at least four months after their third dose, the Times reported.
Though Israel was among the first countries in the world to immunize a majority of its citizens, its vaccination rates have since slowed, now lagging behind a long list of other nations. And despite its rapid vaccine roll-out, the country has seen a spike in coronavirus infections in recent months, including a high number of ‘breakthrough’ cases in fully vaccinated patients. Since then, the government has unveiled a series of booster doses in order to strengthen protection against the virus, in line with Tuesday’s vote for a fourth shot. To date, some 46% of Israel’s population has received at least one additional dose, putting its booster campaign among the top three in the world.
Some experts have gone even further in their recommendations, with Arnon Afek – deputy director of the Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital – going as far as to suggest that a fifth, sixth or even seventh dose could ultimately be needed to end the pandemic.
As of Tuesday, Israel’s Health Ministry has recorded a total of 341 Omicron infections nationwide, noting that most had recently returned from overseas travel. Another 807 are believed to carry the new variant, though their cases have yet to be confirmed. Due to concerns that Omicron patients could remain infectious for a longer period of time, those thought to be infected with the strain are required to undergo an extended 14-day quarantine, rather than the standard 10-day protocol.
In all, Israel has seen more than 1.3 million Covid cases and nearly 8,300 deaths since the pandemic began in late 2019, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.