JERUSALEM (ISRAEL) – Israel will set out on offering a third shot of the Pfizer/Biotech COVID-19 vaccine to people aged over 60, a world first in efforts to slow the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, Israeli TV and radio said on Thursday.
Those eligible will be able to get the booster shot as long as they received their second dose more than five months ago, Channel 13 TV and Kan public radio reported.
Israel was a world leader in the vaccination rollout, with many seniors getting their jabs in December, January and February as they were regarded as the most vulnerable sector of the population.
But since the emergence of the Delta variant, the health ministry has twice reported a drop in the vaccine’s effectiveness against infection and a slight decrease in its protection against severe disease.
The booster campaign, expected to be announced formally soon, will effectively turn Israel into a testing ground for a third dose before approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Pfizer said on Wednesday it believes people need the additional dose to keep protection against the coronavirus high. The company says it could apply for U.S. emergency authorisation for booster shots as early as August.
Media reports said the head of Israel’s health ministry gave health maintenance organisations the go-ahead to administer the third shot after Israeli experts approved the campaign late on Wednesday.
Last week, the health ministry estimated the vaccine was only 41% effective at halting symptomatic infections over the past month. Protection against severe disease remained strong at 91%.
Some experts have criticised the ministry’s analysis because of possible bias that could be skewing the data. Others said Israel should wait a little longer to receive more information about safety and effectiveness of a third shot.
Around 57% of Israel’s 9.3 million population has been vaccinated. Around 160 people are hospitalised with severe symptoms and daily infections have spiked to more than 2,000, up from just a handful of cases per day a few months ago.
The cabinet is hoping that the vaccines will allow it to avoid costly lockdowns by protecting those most vulnerable to severe disease, even as infections climb.