FDA Decision on Booster Shots ‘Reinforces’ Israeli Policy, Doctors Say
Leading Israeli medical experts unconcerned about panel’s decision to limit third dose to those over 65
Israeli health experts on Sunday said that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel’s decision to limit COVID-19 booster shots to older Americans is justified and in fact reinforces Israeli health policy.
The FDA panel on Friday announced that it would recommend a third jab for Americans aged 65 or older, as well as those who are considered high-risk due to weakened immune systems.
While some argued that the move could undermine Israel’s ongoing booster shot campaign, medical experts argued that the United States is actually following in Israel’s footsteps.
“When we first started with the booster, we also started with people aged 60 and above and medical [personnel],” Prof. Shlomo Maayan, who heads Barzilai Medical Center’s Infectious Disease Division in southern Israel, told The Media Line. “We took the same path.
“It just reinforces the decision taken by the Israeli Ministry of Health,” he asserted.
After becoming an early leader in the worldwide vaccination campaign, in late July Israel also became the first country to offer third doses to those over the age of 60.
More than three million Israelis out of a population of nine million have so far received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Following the news of the FDA’s decision, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett defended Israel’s booster vaccine campaign and argued that the US would gradually offer the third jab more widely once presented with additional scientific data from Israel.
Prof. Maayan agreed with Bennett’s assessment and noted that it was simply a matter of time before boosters become the norm. Since Israel was ahead of the curb in the global vaccination drive, it had no choice but to move forward with third doses ahead of other countries once the highly infectious delta variant emerged.
“We are, in a way, ahead of the US in terms of the vaccination rate of the population by about three months,” Maayan affirmed. “Our vaccination campaign was a very rapid one. Therefore after about five to six months, we started to see breakthrough cases and we started to realize that the efficacy of the vaccine goes down.”
Many Americans have been immunized with Moderna, which has been shown in recent studies to have longer-lasting immunity than the Pfizer-BioNTech shot.
“You need boosters for almost any vaccine that is available,” Maayan stated. “In Israel [we are] showing the US and the world in general that it is likely that this will be the future of coronavirus vaccination: repeat booster doses every once in a while.”
Sheba Medical Center – Israel’s largest hospital – also said that the FDA’s decision supported Israeli health policy.
“[It] parallels the State of Israel’s decision several months ago to gradually introduce the booster into the population starting with immunocompromised and then older population and underscores our decision to be first in the world to do so,” a spokesperson said in a statement that was shared with The Media Line. “The booster [shot] speaks for itself as it has shown to be effective against the delta variant and [provides] a substantial rise in antibodies in the system.”
There are currently 49 patients in serious condition at Sheba Medical’s COVID ward, seven of whom are in critical condition. All critically ill patients are unvaccinated.
The panel of outside experts who advise the FDA voted against allowing third doses for the majority of Americans by a vote of 16-2, claiming that there was not enough safety data on boosters for specific age groups.
Dr. Rivka Abulafia-Lapid, a senior virology and immunology expert who lectures at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that she trusted the FDA’s judgment and believed that they would eventually approve booster shots for additional population segments.
Abulafia-Lapid has researched vaccine development for nearly three decades and is also a visiting professor at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.
“It might be that it’s the correct decision to give [boosters] only to those over 65 because in that age group we really do see waning vaccine efficiency,” she said. “For breakthrough cases in this group, the severity of their illness depended on whether they or not they had received a third dose.”
In addition to finding itself at a completely different stage of its vaccination campaign, the decision to approve boosters is a much easier one to take in a small country like Israel, she noted.
“Our population in Israel is small, but for the US there may be political considerations involved,” Abulafia-Lapid said.“It’s a new vaccine and there are still questions that remain unanswered. For older people – those over the age of 60 – there is no question that they should be getting a booster.”