Top Israeli COVID Expert: Booster Shot 'Slowing Down' Infections in 60 and Older

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
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A woman receives her third COVID-19 shot as Israel expands its booster shot campaign for older people, last week.
A woman receives her third COVID-19 shot as Israel expands its booster shot campaign for older people, last week.Credit: Hadas Parush
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Israel's top coronavirus expert says infection rates among Israelis 60 and over are "slowing down," as a renewed COVID outbreak has triggered soaring infection rates.

"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," Prof. Ran Balicer told Ynet news site.

"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," Balicer said.

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Israel reported on Wednesday 7,856 new coronavirus cases, which marks a slight decline from 8,758 recorded on Tuesday. Moreover, serious case rose by 101 to 603, topping 600 for the first time since early March.

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In addition, one of Israel's health maintenance organizations, Maccabi, released on Wednesday its findings on the effectiveness of booster shots. According to the study, a third shot of the coronavirus vaccine is 86 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 infection among 60-year-olds and over.

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.

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.

So far, 5.8 million Israelis have received their first dose while 5.4 million have received a second. An additional 1.2 million have received a third booster shot.

The Maccabi study followed the release of Health Ministry data confirming that even those who had received only two doses were significantly less likely to experience severe illness.

As of August 18, the ministry recorded 183 serious coronavirus cases per 100,000 people among unvaccinated over the age of 60, compared to 20.7 per 100,000 people among the fully vaccinated. This makes the unvaccinated older people more than eight times likely to experience severe symptoms than fully vaccinated counterparts.

However, even though cases will likely continue to rise in a concerning manner in the near future, their rate of increase is beginning to slow, said Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute and a member of the Health Ministry's advisory panel.

This has already begun to happen due to recent increases in the number of triple-vaccinated and recovered people, he said, cautiously predicting that the increase in cases could taper off in the first or second week of September, leading to a decline.

"This is not certain, and it’s only been a few days that we've been seeing this trend,” but “we may see a halt in the spread,” he said. “There’s still no certainty, but that scenario looks like it’s starting to go in that direction.”

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