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Israel starts giving fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose to the most vulnerable

Woman receiving a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose
A woman receives a fourth dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, on Friday.
(Tsafrir Abayov / Associated Press)

Israel began administering a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose Friday to people most vulnerable to the disease, becoming one of the first countries to do so as it braces for a wave of infections fueled by the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Nachman Ash, the director general of the Israeli Health Ministry, had announced approval of the plan for an extra booster Thursday, saying the doses would initially be given to those with weakened immune systems.

“We will continue to track the data on a daily basis and we will see if we need to broaden this recommendation to more of the population,” he said.

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The rollout of the fourth dose began at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on Friday morning and was administered to heart and lung transplant patients. Israel launched trials of the fourth dose at the center earlier this week, administering it to some 150 medical personnel who had received a booster in August.

Israel was among the first countries to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine a year ago and began administering boosters in the summer. But it still saw a wave of infections blamed on the Delta variant, and officials have warned of another driven by the Omicron variant.

There were 4,085 new coronavirus cases recorded Thursday, the highest daily count of infections Israel has seen since late September.

Hundreds of thousands of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews have yet to receive their COVID-19 shots, despite the ravages of the disease on their community.

In response, Israel introduced new restrictions late Thursday in a bid to curb infections ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations. These include a Green Pass — given to fully vaccinated individuals or those who have recently recovered from COVID-19 — for outdoor events of more than 100 people, and mandatory mask-wearing in outdoor events of more than 50 people.

About two-thirds of Israel’s population of nearly 9.5 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and some 4.2 million Israelis have received all three doses, according to the latest Health Ministry figures.

“Israel will lead the way in administering a fourth vaccine [dose] to the Israeli people,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. “Israel’s strategy for overcoming Omicron is clear: The greater the wave, the greater the protection we will need to overcome it.”

On Thursday, Israel also received its first shipment of pills that treat the worst effects of the virus.

With immunity waning and the Omicron variant looming, many scientists are saying the definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ should include a booster shot.

It’s among the first countries to receive Pfizer’s Paxlovid, a pill that can be taken at home to ward off the most severe COVID-19 symptoms. All the previously authorized drugs to treat the disease require an IV or injection.

Israeli media reported that the first shipment consists of 20,000 doses, with more expected as Pfizer ramps up production.

Israel currently has more than 22,000 COVID-19 patients, including more than 90 who are seriously ill. At least 8,243 people have died from COVID-19 in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

Last week, Chile announced that it would start offering a fourth dose in February. Chile has reported that almost 86% of its population is fully vaccinated, making it the country with the highest level of immunization against COVID-19 in Latin America.


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