Israel's Health Ministry approved administering the third COVID booster shot to Israelis aged 40 and up on Friday, accepting the vaccination committee's recommendation to lower the minimum age for receiving the third vaccine dose from 50, as a renewed COVID outbreak has triggered soaring infection rates.
According to a statement from the ministry, its director general, Nachman Ash, notified the heads of Israel's health maintenance organizations to expand the booster shot campaign to the new age group, as well as to teachers, caretakers for the elderly and pregnant women. The booster shot is administered at least five months after the second dose.
Israel's biggest health maintenance organization, Clalit, said its members can book an appointment to get the shot as early as Friday morning.
After receiving the third booster shot on Friday morning, 49-year-old Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on eligible Israelis to do so as well, saying in plain terms that if they do, Israel can avoid a fourth lockdown. Crediting coronavirus tests, vaccines and masks, the premier characterized Israel's efforts against the virus as being at their peak, but reiterated that cooperation is what's needed to defeat the delta variant: "Together we can win."
Bennett also said that he issued an order for hundreds more vaccination complexes to be opened and noted that he anticipates that in the future everyone will be eligible to receive the third booster shot.
Israel began providing booster shots to Israelis over 60 and some at-risk groups over two weeks ago. Over the weekend, it expanded the campaign to the 50-59 age cohort, to employees of geriatric and health care institutions, and to people who suffer from underlying conditions.
"We can say that today booster shots for 60-year-olds and now even people over 50 are doing their job in the sense that they reduce infection rates," Israel's top coronavirus expert told Ynet news site Thursday, noting that infection rates among Israelis 60 and over are "slowing down." Prof. Ran Balicer also noted that "In fact, over the past two days we see a curb in the number of new cases in 60-year-olds and over, who are mostly inoculated with a third dose."
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Balicer’s remarks came one day after Maccabi, one of Israel's leading health care providers, announced Wednesday that the third shot of the coronavirus vaccine is 86 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection among people 60 and older.
As Israel continues to roll out third booster shots for more of its population, it continues to ignore the plea made by the World Health Organization earlier this month, when it urged wealthy countries to stop with their third-shot programs. The WHO claims that these efforts while many poor countries have barely begun with their first doses are both morally and epidemiologically unacceptable.
Israel hopes that a third dose will boost antibody levels and thereby stop the spread of the virus, and above all the rise in the number of serious cases. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has advocated widespread vaccination as an alternative to lockdowns, recently instructed the directors of Israel's four health maintenance organizations to double their vaccination rates and to offer inoculations around the clock.
More than 1.2 million Israelis have received their third shot; some 5.4 million Israelis of all age groups have received their second.
According to data released on Friday morning by the Health Ministry, on Thursday seven patients died and 7,692 people were diagnosed with the virus, 88 of whom are in serious condition, as compared with 103 new serious cases logged on Wednesday. There are currently 594 patients in serious condition, 149 of whom are in critical condition, including 108 patients on ventilators. To date, 6,759 people have died with COVID.