Health Ministry Experts Panel Recommends 3rd COVID Shot for Older Israelis

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A man receives a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the outpatient clinics of the Cardiovascular Center at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, earlier this month.
A man receives a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the outpatient clinics of the Cardiovascular Center at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, earlier this month.Credit: JACK GUEZ - AFP

Experts advising the Health Ministry have recommended that older people receive a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, though they disagree on whether the cohort should start at 60 years old, 65 or 70.

Some of the data presented at a discussion Wednesday suggested that the vaccine's effectiveness in preventing severe symptoms among 60-year-olds and above has dropped to 81 percent from 97 percent in January.

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While most panel members favored a booster shot for anyone 60 or older, others suggested that the bar be raised to 65 or 70. The Health Ministry's director general, Nachman Ash, will make the final decision.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will meet the health minister and other experts on Thursday to discuss the health or economic implications of the said move, a statement by the prime minister's office reads. 

Earlier Wednesday, experts told Haaretz 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.

Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the infectious disease unit at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv, will head a research team looking into the move. Rahav told Haaretz that she hopes to begin testing a third dose next week.

“We're  seeing a dramatic drop in the level of immunity and we know the elderly respond less to vaccines than the young, but we don’t have this data for COVID-19,” she said.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declared that Israel was “very close” to making a decision on COVID booster shots, and on obtaining the additional doses needed to make that happen.

Bennett's remarks came two weeks after the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said there was no need at this time for a third dose, but as Israeli Health Ministry data showed a sharp decline in the vaccine's effectiveness against infection and a slight decline in preventing severe illness.

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