Tens of thousands of people aged 50 to 59, who have now become eligible for a third booster vaccine, were vaccinated over the weekend by Israel’s health maintenance organizations, with over 100,000 more people signing up for their third dose in the coming days.
Overall, 70,000 doses were administered this weekend, bringing the total to 846,000.
A professional forum consisting of members of a monitoring committee and a team charged with dealing with the pandemic recommended last Thursday to expand the eligibility for the third dose, a decision which took effect the following morning.
The committee discussed the issue after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had already instructed HMOs to prepare for administering a third dose to people under 60 in the coming week. More than 80 experts from various relevant fields took part in the discussion, which was followed by a vote. Most committee members agreed that it was justified to expand the population eligible for a booster to people under 60, with the discussion revolving around the lower cut-off age – 45 or 50 – as well as around other at-risk groups of people under the age of 50.
Ultimately, the Health Ministry decided that medical personnel over 30 who come in contact with patients, as well as prisoners and wardens over 40, could receive the booster shot if more than five months had elapsed since their second dose.
It was also decided to give a third shot to people 40 and over who live people with disabilities, people in rehabilitation under the supervision of the Social Affairs Ministry, patients in psychiatric hospitals or wards, as well as people in community homes for the mentally ill.
Meanwhile, the number of confirmed daily infections has surpassed 6,000, with a positivity rate of five percent out of 120,000 daily tests. Across the country, 827 people are hospitalized, with 492 of them in serious condition and 113 in critical condition, while the number of those on ventilators is 85.
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The third-dose wager
Israel is galloping at full speed toward the goal of vaccinating its population, viewing it as a key solution at stemming a fourth coronavirus wave. However, there are some doubts about this strategy, including among some experts who believe that there is insufficient data regarding the effectiveness of the third dose.
The first debate around vaccinating people under 60 was held almost two weeks ago, but the idea did not gain wide consensus due to the lack of evidence regarding its effectiveness, and because many experts thought that there was no justification for such a move at the time.
However, with the rise in the number of infections, more experts became convinced that a third dose was warranted. A scenario prepared by Prof. Eran Segal from the Weizmann Institute was presented at a cabinet meeting last week. It suggested that a third dose administered to people over 40 would reduce the daily number of infections by 10,000. If the third dose was given only to people over 60, it claimed, there would be more than 20,000 confirmed infected people by the end of September. If the booster was given to people over 40, there would be 10,000 infections a day.
Another scenario presented by the Gertner Institute argued that without a third dose also given to people between 40 and 59, there would be a rise in the number of seriously ill people in this group, which would hit 100 in contrast to the current 40. This forecast was based on assumptions made by several sources. However, the forecasters have doubts regarding their ability to predict what will happen in the coming weeks.
“There is not enough data about the third dose,” says one expert clearly and unequivocally. Some reports indicate that the head of public health services at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, opposed giving a third dose for anyone below the age of 60.
“I believe that at this stage we should deal with people at high risk for getting COVID-19,” said Alroy-Preis in an interview with public broadcaster Kan. “This includes people under the age of 60 with underlying conditions, medical personnel, and people living in close quarters, such as prisoners. We could later proceed in a more staged manner.”
Israel is the first country to administer a third dose of the vaccine, although some other countries have followed its lead. The move has raised calls for desisting, for reasons other than its effectiveness.
The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, called for stopping the administration of a booster shot, arguing that it was unacceptable that countries with high vaccination rates would administer a third dose while other countries suffer a surge of infections and deaths due to low vaccination rates.
Countries with high vaccination rates are witnessing a drop in deaths and infections whereas countries with no access to vaccines are seeing high infection rates and a rise in deaths, he said. No one is safe until everyone is safe, which is why giving a third dose should be halted, he added.