Israel trials fourth coronavirus vaccine as ministry delays rollout decision

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Israel trials fourth coronavirus vaccine as ministry delays rollout decision

Health Ministry officials are monitoring data that suggests the Omicron variant is not affecting hospitalisations

An Israeli hospital has begun administering fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses as the country’s health ministry delayed a decision on a nationwide rollout of the jabs.

An additional booster was recommended by a panel of experts last week, but officials have withheld final approval because the omicron variant does not appear to be affecting hospitalisations.

There also did not appear to be a spike in severe cases, Haaretz reported.

The final call will be made ministry’s director-general, Nachman Ash, a medical doctor whose decision, officials say, will be made without government intervention.

But a trial of 150 medical staff began as planned at the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel HaShomer, near Tel Aviv.

“I’m excited to be the first person, apparently in the world, who got the fourth booster of the COVID vaccine,” said Jacob Lavee, a former director at the hospital.

“To paraphrase an old saying: ‘It’s a small jab into the shoulder, probably a giant step for mankind.’”

Gili Regev-Yochay, the director of the hospital study, said it would help them understand the immune response of people to a fourth jab.

“This research is therefore very important because we will have initial data within a few days about the safety,” said Prof Regev-Yochay.

“I think then we will feel more safe to say – okay, everybody who has [reduced immunity] can go and get it.

“If we see that we have outbreaks with severe disease in elderly homes, maybe we should recommend them.”

The Health Ministry expert panel last week recommended that Israel become the first country to offer a fourth vaccine dose to those aged over 60, those suffering from compromised immune systems and medical workers.

But Ash, the ministry’s director-general, may amend the eligibility criteria by raising the age threshold to 70 and dropping medical workers from the roster, Israeli media said.

Some 63% of Israel’s 9.4 million population have received the first two vaccine doses, according to ministry data. Almost 45% have also received a third dose, or booster shot.

Israel was the fastest country to roll out initial vaccines a year ago, and became one of the first to observe that immunity waned over time, responding with a widespread booster programme.

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