Israeli President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on Friday, a day after Israel announced its "booster" jab campaign for Israelis over 60.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday the world's first vaccination drive to inoculate people over 60 with a third COVID vaccine dose, starting Sunday.
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Speaking at a press conference at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, where 60-year-old Herzog received the jab, Bennett said: "We are launching our [third jab] campaign to protect seniors in Israel. From today there is a new mitzvah: to vaccinate your fathers and mothers."
Herzog thanked Bennett and his government “for this brave decision,” saying that he is “proud that we are the first country to be vaccinated with the third vaccine” dose.
“The step we are taking today is an important step for social solidarity in Israel,” the president said.
He called on everyone who has not yet been vaccinated to "consult with their family doctor" about doing so. Herzog added that the campaign will allow Israel "to return to normalcy."
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Bennett later reached out to Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut requesting that they get the third jab as they meet the requirements set for receiving the booster shot.
Levy and Hayut said they would get the shot soon, acknowledging the importance of setting an example for the public in dealing with the delta variant.
Meanwhile, Israel saw a three-month high in coronavirus patients in serious condition on Friday, Health Ministry figures showed.
The number of serious cases currently stands at 167 – the highest since April – with 33 people in critical condition and 26 on ventilators. On Thursday, 2,140 people were diagnosed with COVID-19, with 159 serious cases; 2.37 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive, a slight increase from the previous day.
Health maintenance organizations have already started administering the jab to people aged 60 and older who received their second shot at least five months ago.
Experts advising the Health Ministry recommended on Wednesday that seniors received a third dose, although they disagreed on whether the cohort should start at 60 years old, 65 or 70.
Experts told Haaretz earlier this week that there is still not enough data on the effectiveness and safety of a third dose, but they also expressed concerns about delaying the decision. Data presented at a discussion Wednesday suggested that the vaccine's effectiveness in preventing severe symptoms among those 60 and older has dropped to 81 percent from 97 percent in January.
More than 5.7 million Israelis have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine and over 5.3 million Israelis have received two doses. So far, 6,466 people in Israel have died from the virus.
Neither the U.S. nor the EU have approved coronavirus booster shots. It’s not yet proven if a third dose helps and, if so, who needs one and when. The first large study of the strategy is beginning in thousands of patients in Norway.