Israel has become the first country in the world to embark on a fourth vaccination campaign against Covid-19 as part of efforts to stem rapidly rising infection rates caused by the Omicron variant.
People over 60 and healthcare workers who received their third injection more than four months ago became eligible for a second Pfizer-BioNTech recall on Monday, after a limited rollout began last week for the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
Officials had previously said they would wait for more data on the effectiveness of a fourth shot before making it more widely available. However, Israel’s health ministry said on Tuesday that although it felt the threat posed by Omicron was minimal, it had been forced to act faster in the face of soaring infection rates.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that preliminary results from an Israeli study found that a fourth dose of vaccine-boosted antibodies quintupled after a week.
The country recorded its sixth-highest daily tally since the pandemic began on Monday with 10,644 cases – a 360% increase from the previous week, although the spread of the new variant has not been accompanied corresponding increases in mortality.
“At the moment, I wouldn’t recommend it to younger populations. Our recommendation on a fourth dose of vaccine was issued quickly and because there was no choice, ”Dr Tal Brosh, coordinator of the Department of Health’s pandemic team, told military radio.
“We were eager to examine this over time in orderly studies. We believe the risk is minimal.
Less than a day after it was made available, 100,000 people received or made an appointment to obtain the second reminder. The rapid pace of the infection has also raised concerns over testing kit shortages, with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz saying Israel will adjust its mandatory testing criteria and focus primarily on those at high risk. As a result, more Israelis “will be required to exercise personal responsibility and perform tests at home,” he said in a televised address on Monday.
In order to avoid a de facto lockdown and widespread disruption to schools and the economy, periods of precautionary self-isolation for people who have been exposed to the coronavirus have been reduced.
The increase in national transmission also appears to have rendered international travel restrictions moot, with restrictions imposed in November to be lifted. Foreigners from 199 “orange” states will be allowed to enter the country from January 9 on the condition that they are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19. The UK, US, UAE and Turkey remain on Israel’s “red” list.
Despite a world-class first vaccination program, reluctance to vaccinate among ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities means that only about 70% of Israel’s 9.3 million people have received two doses of the vaccine to date .
Israel has also come under heavy criticism from the UN for failing to do more to facilitate a faster deployment for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where full vaccination rates are lagging about 31%.