Israeli citizens age 60 and older can receive a third coronavirus vaccine dose beginning next week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced.
“The decision was based on considerable research and analysis, as well as the rise in risk of the delta variant wave,” Bennett said in a televised statement on Thursday night.
He said that Israel already has vaccinated 2,000 immunosuppressed people with a third dose “with no severe adverse effects.”
“We will share all the information we have with the rest of the global community as we make progress,” Bennett added.
The announcement comes a day after Bennett met with the ministry’s committee of coronavirus experts, to hear their recommendations on giving a third vaccine dose to the elderly.
Bennett met Thursday morning with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, and Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, to discuss the possible distribution of a third vaccine dose for those age 60 and over.
Following the meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement saying: “These recommendations, by the committee of experts, are substantial,” adding: “Our strategy is clear: To safeguard life, and to safeguard daily routines in the State of Israel.”
It is better to develop means of how to live with it and to provide effective treatment in the hospitals
Data presented in the committee of coronavirus experts meeting on Wednesday appeared to suggest that the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing severe disease in over-60s has fallen to 81%, after being as high as 97% in January.
On Tuesday, a Health Ministry spokesperson told The Media Line that there are four key factors contributing to the rise in Israel’s case numbers. These include “largely open borders, a large unvaccinated cohort (mostly but not only children), the introduction of a new, more infectious variant (delta),” and the “possible waning of immunity among early vaccine recipients.”
Israel is currently immunizing children in the 12- to 15-year-old category, in accordance with the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine for this age range. The ministry stated that it “will consider younger age groups when the vaccine for those age groups is approved by international regulation.”
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Yet, the information that early recipients of the vaccine, who were mostly elderly, are experiencing a decline in vaccine-induced immunity, is concerning to experts.
Professor Doron Melamed, a specialist in immunology at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, told The Media Line that there is a definite correlation between having a high antibody count and being protected from COVID-19.
Melamed, who runs a laboratory for developmental immunology and aging, explained that the elderly have responded poorly to the vaccine. “They produce reduced amounts of antibodies and, sure, there is a need to enhance their antibodies,” he said.
He is skeptical about whether providing the elderly with a third vaccination would substantially raise their antibody count.
“The question is whether or not the vaccine can do this, and how effective it is, because it is known that the elderly poorly respond to vaccination and even to COVID-19 [vaccines]. Their overall amount of antibodies are markedly reduced relative to the younger population. So, it is unclear to me whether a third vaccine can elevate it to higher levels in general, and for how long this will last,” he said.
Melamed says that the government is currently spending too much money on sampling, measuring and repeat tests, when “it would be better to invest the money in hospitals and making more space for hospitalization and providing effective treatment.”
The large numbers of unvaccinated individuals combined with the ability of COVID-19 to mutate into new variants have led some experts to turn their attention toward adapting to living with the virus.
“Even if we pass the current infection, it doesn’t mean that in two, three, four months from now there will not be another strain, another modification, and then we run into it again,” Melamed said.
In light of this grim prediction, he suggests that “it is better to develop means of how to live with it and to provide effective treatment in the hospitals.”
Aron Rosenthal is a student at the University of Edinburgh and an intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program.