Israeli Expert Panel Decides Against Recommending Fourth COVID Vaccine

Health Ministry moves to focus on the 42 percent of eligible Israelis that are not fully vaccinated as omicron variant spreads

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Medical staffer prepares a dose of the COVID vaccine
Medical staffer prepares a dose of the COVID vaccine Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Health Ministry's vaccination committee recommended overnight into Monday against administering a fourth vaccination to the general population, including immunocompromised people. 

The committee also decided against recommending shortening the waiting time between the second and third shots. The booster shot is currently administered five months after receiving the second shot, and the committee was considering to shorten that period by two months.

A statement from the Health Ministry said that the committee had reached a consensus to prioritize vaccinating those who have not yet received the recommended three doses of the vaccine. 

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash has said that there is a "high probability" that a fourth vaccine will be recommended, "but we will have to see when."

"We still do not see the possibility of administering a fourth vaccine to the general population, but first and foremost to high-risk populations," said Ash.

In the U.S., the CDC has already recommended a fourth dose for immunocompromised people in October. Meanwhile, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla warned last week that a fourth vaccine may be needed to battle the new variant.

According to the Health Ministry, as of Saturday just over 58 percent of eligible Israelis over the age of 5 are fully vaccinated, meaning that they have received three doses or are within a six-month window following their second dose. A further 9.3 percent are double-vaccinated but have allowed more than six months to pass without getting a booster shot, while 32.4 percent are unvaccinated.

Prof. Ron Balicer, head of an expert panel advising the Health Ministry, said that means nearly 42 percent of Israelis are insufficiently protected against the latest omicron variant.

“The rate of spread [in the U.K.] is dramatically faster – the fastest we have ever seen,” Prof. Balicer told Army Radio, citing recently released British government data. “It has been shown in the U.K. that the level of protection of two doses against the omicron strain is very low.”

However, according to data released by the U.K. Health Security Agency on Friday, when boosted with a dose of the Pfizer vaccine, there was around 70 percent protection against symptomatic infection for people who initially received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and around 75 percent protection for those who received the Pfizer one. This is in line with a recent Israeli study that found a third dose reduces the risk of COVID-related death by 90 percent among patients aged 50 and older.

To date, 67 infections of the new variant have been diagnosed in Israel.

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