Israel approved its second booster shot of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for elderly people in care homes, geriatric wards and in assisted living facilities on Friday, making it the first country to approve such a step.
This came after Israel became the first country to give the green light for a fourth COVID shot of the Pfizer vaccine for people with weakened immune systems on Thursday.
Israel's Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said the decision stemmed from the high rate of infection in these institutions, which could prove grave for the vulnerable population. He added that the authorities were already beginning preparations for an imminent rollout.
According to Health Ministry guidelines, entry to these institutions will only be permitted to vaccinated and recovered people over the age of three who show a negative antigen test result conducted at a supervised coronavirus testing center, or a signed declaration affirming the reception of a negative result via a home test kit.
Entry to unvaccinated people will be conditioned upon providing a negative result at a test conducted in a supervised center only. Every resident of a geriatric ward, day care or an assisted living facility will be allowed to have one visitor a day, unless if they are a minor accompanied by an adult.
On Friday, Israel recorded another dramatic jump of daily COVID cases, with 4,916 new positive tests, increasing from 4,067 on Thursday and more than doubling since the start of the week. However, the number of seriously ill patients has remained steady, with 93 patients on Friday compared to 94 patients on Thursday.
The R number – the average number of people each COVID carrier infects – continues to rise, reaching a six-month peak of 1.71. The most recent data on the R number reflects the spread of the virus ten days prior.
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An expert panel in the Health Ministry recommended that Israel opens up the second booster shot to all people aged over 60 last week, but the director general of the Health Ministry, Professor Nachman Ash, held off on authorizing the jab until more data is available.
An Israeli hospital administered fourth shots to a test group of health workers on Monday, in what it called the first major study into whether a second round of boosters will help contend with the omicron variant. Results are expected within two weeks.
Last week, Chile announced that it would start offering a fourth dose, but the rollout will only commence in February.
In an optimistic sign, South Africa has lifted its nighttime curfew, signalling that the worst of the omicron wave may be behind them. The South African government announced that while the variant is highly transmittable, hospitalization rates were lower than in previous waves.
Since the omicron variant originally appeared in South Africa, nations across the world have been looking to the country to see how omicron waves may unfold.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.