Monday saw an Israeli hospital begin a study to assess the safety and effectiveness a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose. Meanwhile, health officials continue to discuss the possibility of rolling out fourth shots nationwide to vulnerable people.
Officials from Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv stated that their study was unique in the world. They administered an additional shot to 150 personnel who had received a third dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the beginning of April.
The Israeli move, which was a pioneer in Covid vaccines, is being closely observed as governments around the world struggle with how to combat the Omicron variant. It is causing record-breaking numbers of new infections in Europe and the United States. Omicron infections can be more severe than other variants. Experts warn that this could lead to more deaths.
A panel of medical experts who advised the Israeli government suggested last week that health officials offer a fourth shot to people 60 years and older. This is for those with weaker immunity or for medical workers.
Although the Ministry of Health has yet to approve the proposal, questions have been raised about the timing of the recommendation given the lack of data regarding the effects of a fourth shot. It was not clear if the ministry would wait to see the results of the hospital study before making its recommendation.
Although there was uncertainty about the effects of Omicron on immune system, the advisory panel pointed out evidence of decreased immunity among those who received a third dose in August. Israeli data showed that the rate of infection by the Delta variant, which was then dominant, doubled within four to five months.
Israel, a small country with a strong public health system, was the pioneer in the introduction of the first Covid vaccines. It also gave booster shots later. This allowed it to evaluate how effective the shots were and how quickly they wear off.
Most of the advisory panel members believed that the potential risks of a fourth shot outweighed the benefits and that there was no need to delay in taking decisions to protect the most vulnerable. But other experts argued that not enough was known about the effects of a fourth shot, and some scientists have raised concerns that too many shots might cause a sort of immune system fatigue, compromising the body’s ability to fight the virus, particularly among older people.
A senior official at the Health Ministry said last week that they would be gathering more data from other nations, especially regarding the risk of Omicron-related severe illness in older people, before deciding whether to offer a fourth dosage and to whom.
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A second ministry official stated Monday that a decision could be made within days. Both officials requested anonymity to discuss the process.
Monday also saw the Israeli Health Ministry officially accept another recommendation of the advisory board. This shortens the time between administering the third booster shot and the second vaccine to three month instead of five months.
“Now, in light of the Omicron wave, there is an increased need to boost the level of immunity among the general population as quickly as possible,” the ministry said in a statement, noting that other countries in Europe had done the same.
Most of Israel’s population has received at least two doses, but about a million eligible citizens have not yet received a third booster shot, out of a total population of nine million.
Source: NY Times