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Israel weighing option of third vaccine

What happened: The Israeli government is close to a decision over whether to offer a third COVID vaccine.

  • Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said yesterday: “We’ve been on that for a month already. We’re very close, but we need to give it time to ripen … the confirmed cases aren’t the end-all-and-be-all in the fight against the coronavirus. We’ve set ourselves an objective of keeping the economy and society open as much as possible.”
  • The Health Ministry’s pandemic taskforce will meet again today and is expected to decide, but it’s not yet clear whether the committee will recommend a third injection or just make it available to the elderly who want to take it.
  • There is growing concern over the rise in the infection rate. Yesterday 2,123 people tested positive – the highest daily number since March and the first time in four months that the number rose above 2,000. Out of 92,764 coronavirus tests, 2.29 per cent were positive.
  • According to Health Ministry data, 13,408 people in Israel are currently infected with the virus, 145 of whom are defined as being in serious condition and 24 are on ventilators.
  • Currently, 69 per cent of all the people hospitalised in serious condition are vaccinated.

Context: Israeli health experts remain divided over the necessity of a third vaccine.

  • Whilst the World Health Organisation has said there is no need, Israel’s Health Ministry data shows a sharp decline in the efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine and a slight decline in preventing severe illness.
  • The dilemma facing the Health Ministry is summed up my Nadav Eyal writing in Yediot Ahronot: “If they choose not to approve administering a booster shot at the current stage of things, there might be a continued rise in the infection rate and more fatalities. If they approve a booster shot and it either proves to be ineffective or it has severe side effects, it is liable to undermine public trust severely. They have no one else to look to, to lead the way; Israel is entering uncharted waters. The clear advantage that it has as a country that was vaccinated early on is the very reason that it now has to make such a difficult decision.”
  • Nadav notes, “Israel has looked to the UK, where the number of people testing positive has risen tremendously, but without that having placed any substantive strain on the hospitals and the number of people in serious condition.”
  • According to Hebrew University data the vaccine remains highly effective in preventing death (91 per cent) but has diminished efficacy in preventing serious illness at around 80 per cent.
  • Prof. Galia Rahav, the head of the Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratories at Sheba Medical Center, told Haaretz: “We’re seeing a distinct drop in antibody levels. We’re seeing that those who are really sick now are mostly the elderly and that those who were vaccinated in January are at a higher risk of getting sick than those who are vaccinated in April.”

Looking ahead: The coronavirus cabinet has approved the implementation of a renewed Green Certificate Programme. From tomorrow, only those vaccinated, who have recovered from COVID-19 or who present a negative test result will be permitted to enter indoor venues with more than 100 people, including gyms, restaurants, hotels, theatres, sporting events, event halls and houses of prayer. Children under 12 will be exempt.

  • Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nachman Ash warned yesterday, “We need to get it into our heads that in another ten days we’re going to have twice the number of people testing positive and patients in serious and critical condition. We’re considering additional steps that we’ll present to the cabinet, but I don’t know whether and when they’ll be accepted.”
  • According to projections by experts from Hebrew University, the infection rate is expected to continue to rise and Israel is likely to have between 200 and 400 people hospitalised in serious condition by mid-August unless new restrictions are imposed.
  • Some experts are suggesting to wait as Pfizer has begun to develop a new vaccine that is effective against the Delta variant.
  • In parallel, the Israeli company Oramed Pharmaceuticals is the first in the world that has started clinical trials testing a pill that could also protect against the virus.

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