The Ministry of Health announced on Friday that its Director General Nachman Ash had approved the provision of COVID-19 vaccine enhancers to all Israelis over the age of 40. The decision came after a government advisory panel of health experts made the recommendation Thursday night.
Even before the ministry’s decision was announced, the health clinics were already inviting everyone in the relevant age group to schedule appointments to get their third shot, as Ash had largely expected to sign on the go.
The shot had previously been available to anyone over the age of 50.
Now pregnant women, teachers, health workers, nursing home staff and welfare programs, prisoners and prison guards and risk groups, including overweight or diabetics, are also eligible for all ages over 18 years.
Only those who received the second dose of vaccine at least five months earlier are eligible for the shot.
Israel is the first country in the world to offer a third vaccine to such a broad section of the population as it seeks to combat the highly infectious Delta variant of coronavirus.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, 49, also did not wait for Ash to be well, and his office announced Thursday night that he would be vaccinated the next morning.
“I urge anyone who meets the criteria set by the committee – get vaccinated,” Bennett said in a statement. “Take responsibility for the health and livelihood of us all. This is not the time to gamble with life. ”
The program has already seen over 1 million people over the age of 50, immunocompromised and health professionals receiving a third dose of the shot.
The Walla news site reported that some clinics had already begun vaccinating them in the 40-49 range overnight.
“When I heard that vaccinations were being opened for people aged 40 and over, I went to the Meuhedet clinic without an appointment and hoped for the best, and they actually agreed to give me the shot on the spot,” Ramat Hasharon man Lior Zion, 44, told the place.
The expert panel had considered extending the coverage of boosters to all those who have had two vaccine doses, regardless of age. However, this proposal was ultimately not approved.
The Ynet news site reported that Ash is still opposed to extending vaccinations to the entire cohort of already vaccinated individuals.
Speculation that the program will be expanded significantly has risen since U.S. health officials announced Wednesday that a third dose would be offered to anyone over the age of 18 from September 20th.
Last month, Israel became the first country in the world to start offering booster shots to those over 60 and last week expanded the qualification to those over 50.
According to data from the Ministry of Health on Thursday, 1,260,736 Israelis have received the third dose so far.
Israel has seen case numbers skyrocket in recent weeks due to the Delta variant. Over 7,900 new cases were reported on Wednesday, and 599 people were hospitalized in serious condition with the disease. A total of 6,752 people have died from the virus since the onset of the outbreak last year.
Health officials expect the number to rise even higher and have warned the government that the number of patients requiring hospital treatment in September will reach 5,000, half of whom will be in serious condition.
Channel 12 reported Thursday night that officials from the Israeli government panel have estimated that about 100 vaccinated people aged 40-49 without a third shot will experience severe COVID disease over the next 30 days.
According to experts from the health panel quoted by the network, those vaccinated with a booster shot are six to eight times less likely to get a serious case of the disease and four times less likely to become infected, compared to those who got two doses.
Experts also increasingly believe that the Delta variant is not very capable of bypassing the Pfizer vaccine used in Israel, rather it is simply the declining effect of previous shots that makes vaccinated people sick, according to previous Director General of the Ministry of Health Gabi Barbash.
The booster’s ability to once again protect a large portion of the population from Delta, once administered, is proof of this, he told Channel 12.
Bennett’s government has resisted demands for tighter restrictions or a lockdown to lower infection rates and insisted the socio-economic damage would be too great. The administration has proclaimed vaccines as a healthier way to counteract the spread of the virus.
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