First in world, Israel agrees to give seniors 60+ third COVID jab
The country’s four major health funds said they are preparing to welcome individuals over the age of 60 for a coronavirus booster shot, as Israelis were banned from traveling to four more countries and the Green Pass went back into effect.
The Health Ministry’s coronavirus vaccination committee voted by an almost unanimous majority of 56-1 to administer the third shot of the Pfizer vaccine to elderly people who were jabbed more than five months ago at a meeting that ran from 9 p.m. to midnight on Wednesday, despite a third shot still not being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.
President Isaac Herzog will receive the country’s first booster shot on Friday.
Maccabi Health Services said it would start vaccinating on Friday. The other health funds said they would begin taking appointments and offering shots on Sunday.
“Our strategy is clear: To safeguard life, and to safeguard daily routine in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
He explained that the decision was based on considerable research and analysis, as well as the “rise and risk of the Delta variant wave. Israel has already vaccinated 2,000 immunosuppressed people with a third dose with no severe adverse events. Now, we are 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.”
On Thursday morning, Prof. Nimrod Maimon, head of the Magen Avot V’Imahot program, met with representatives of the country’s assisted living facilities and said that the shots would be immediately administered at their homes.
The Israel Gerontological Society also said it was preparing to administer the tests to its residents. The society represents some 100 nursing and geriatric hospitals.
The move comes one day after Pfizer told its investors in a presentation that their research shows that a third dose of the vaccine increased antibodies by five to 11 times. The company said it hopes to apply for emergency use approval of the extra shot sometime in August.
The Delta variant has been quickly spreading across Israel.
Some 2,177 people were diagnosed on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported on Thursday evening, with 2.36% of those who were screened tested positive. There were 151 people in serious condition, including 26 who were intubated.
A 38-year-old unvaccinated coronavirus patient being treated at Soroka Medical Center died on Thursday evening. He had no underlying medical conditions, the hospital said. On admission, his situation deteriorated rapidly until he was ultimately ventilated and placed on an ECMO machine.
“Without further action and widespread immunization by the public, the number of new and serious cases is expected to rise to such an extent that it could lead to congestion in the community health clinics and hospitals,” a report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said.
While the majority of new cases are younger people – among them unvaccinated children – the country is starting to see more and more elderly who were vaccinated five and six months ago get infected. Preliminary research by the Health Ministry showed that the Pfizer vaccine was only 16% effective against the Delta variant in people vaccinated so long ago.
Moreover, it is estimated that for people 60 and older, the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness has dropped from 97% to 81%.
“Eighty-one percent is still effective, but the gap is dramatic,” tweeted Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science on Thursday morning. “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.”
To help stop the spread of infection, the Knesset approved a request by the Health Ministry on Thursday to add the United Kingdom, Turkey, Cyprus and Georgia to the list of countries to which Israelis are banned from traveling.
During a meeting of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Head of Public Health Services Prof. Sharon Alroy-Preis said the ministry intends to declare Greece, Bulgaria and the United Arab Emirates banned countries next week – some of the most popular summer tourist destinations.
The list of banned countries already included Uzbekistan, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, Spain, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
She also said that Italy and France would enter the list of orange countries, those countries from which all people whether vaccinated or not must enter isolation on return to Israel.
Alroy-Preis said that she does not believe the current restrictions at Ben-Gurion Airport are effective enough to stop the spread of the virus, describing a situation of “exponential growth” in imported disease. According to her, some 800 sick people have entered through the country’s border crossings – mostly through the airport – and currently Israel is averaging 100 to 250 new cases coming in from abroad a day.
She said that some of the people test positive from their first screening at the airport and others when they test on their seventh day after arrival with the aim of leaving isolation. Though she also said that only around 10% of people returning from abroad perform the second coronavirus test on the seventh day.
In addition, the Green Pass program was reinstated on Thursday.
The program requires an individual over the age of 12 to present a vaccination or recovery certificate or a negative coronavirus test taken within the last 72 hours to enter an event or location with more than 100 people.
The pass applies to cultural and sporting events, hotels and tourist attractions, gyms and workout studios, restaurants, bars, cafes, cafeterias, conferences and synagogues.
The government requested that the new Green Pass rules stay in effect through August 25, but the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee only approved the plan through August 7, the day before Israel is expected to roll out its rapid antigen testing system.
The committee said it wanted the government to come up with a plan for funding these rapid tests first.
To help enforce the wearing of masks on public transportation, Bennett and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli announced that some 400 inspectors would be hired for the next three months, with an option to renew their contracts as needed after that.