Should Recovered COVID Patients Get Vaccinated? Israel's Health Experts Are Divided

Recovered patients – 650,000 people and counting – aren't eligible to get vaccinated against COVID despite the World Health Organization's recommendation and there being no shortage of available doses in Israel

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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At a coronavirus vaccine center in Jerusalem last week
At a coronavirus vaccine center in Jerusalem last weekCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

The Health Ministry is debating whether to vaccinate recovered COVID-19 patients, and while the ministry is expected to allow this, it is unclear when and under what conditions people who had the virus will start receiving the vaccine.

There are more than 650,000 Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19, and another 60,000 who are still considered active cases but will soon be deemed “recovered.” There is a growing demand among them to be vaccinated.

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Officials at the Health have been divided about vaccinating those who have recovered. Some experts argue that recovered patients should not receive the vaccine, while others support vaccinating the entire population.

Until now, the Health Ministry has related to those who have recovered and those who have been vaccinated the same way, on the assumption that being infected creates antibodies and an immune response similar to that of the vaccine. Based on the same assumption, a person who got the first shot but contracted COVID soon afterward is not being given the second dose.

One of the options being weighed by the Health Ministry is administering the vaccine only three months after a person had recovered from the coronavirus.

According to a Health Ministry official, "The tendency is to allow recovered patients to be vaccinated, not now but at a later stage, and in any case only at least three months after recovering."

But another official said that “There is evidence of immunity of more than eight months among those who’ve recovered, which supports the position of those that want to leave the recovered for the end [of the vaccination campaign].”

Concerned about a shortage of vaccines when Israel just launched its vaccination campaign, the Health Ministry did not include recovered COVID patients in the list of those eligible to be vaccinated.

But two months after the start of the vaccination campaign, the situation has changed. There appears to be no shortage of available doses and many of those who have recovered are expressing concern – justifiably or not – about being less protected – particularly if many months have passed since the infection.

The World Health Organization recommends that those who have had COVID still get vaccinated. Pfizer’s clinical trials showed that there is no risk to being vaccinated if one has had COVID.

The matter has been discussed repeatedly in various official forums dealing with the vaccination campaign and focused on two issues. One is whether someone who has recovered from the coronavirus say, a year ago, is indeed as protected as someone who was vaccinated or took ill more recently.

The other issue is whether giving the vaccine to someone who has recovered from COVID provides added value by enhancing the immunity of the recovered patient. 

At this time, it is unclear whether a person who had recovered from COVID a year ago is protected as much as a person who received the vaccine or has recently recovered. Some experts expect the vaccines to provide immune protection for years, while others say it may be necessary to vaccinate the entire population once a year, similar to the seasonal flu shot given every year because the virus develops mutations.

In addition, current data shows that cases of reinfection are very rare. This supports the argument that the illness itself provides immunity for at least several months, and possibly much longer.

Israel has administered 3,871,898 doses of the vaccine, including 2,505,491 second shots.

As of Sunday evening, 5,378 people in Israel had died of the virus, 27 of them in the preceding 24 hours. There are 1,613 people hospitalized with COVID-19, including 1,008 in serious condition and 284 on respirators.

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