Covid-19 in Israel: the dilemma of the fourth dose

The Hebrew state is certainly heading towards a fourth dose of anti-Covid vaccine for those over 70 years old and populations at risk: all that is needed is the approval of the Director General of the Ministry of Health to put in place this campaign, which would be the first in the world.

Last week, the Scientific Council on Covid-19 recommended this second booster for healthcare workers and those over 60, as well as reducing the time between two doses to three months. The measures were greeted with enthusiasm by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz.

Such a rush might come as a surprise, even in the all-vaccine country. The fourth dose has not yet received the approval of the main regulatory agencies. And the health situation in Israel is rather good: the Jewish state made the decision to hermetically close its borders on November 29, just a few days after the identification of the new variant. “We won a month”, said Bennett on December 21.

Three thousand intensive care beds

Today, the variant is firmly anchored in the territory. Tuesday evening, a woman, hospitalized, died, reached of the variant Omicron. She was one of 1,741 carriers. More than half of them contracted it abroad – but according to the health ministry, 623 new cases, mostly local transmissions, were confirmed in Monday alone. According to government forecasts, new infections are expected to double every two to three days.

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The number of serious cases remains stable, with 84 people in critical situation. Israel has 3,000 intensive care beds: we are therefore far from an emergency. “It’s a real dilemma, says Ran Balicer, head of the scientific council. Our situation is unique because we are the first country to have given the booster, and therefore the first country to witness the decline in immunity following the third dose. “

“According to data from the UK, this variant is three times less likely to lead to hospitalization – but if it is three times more infectious then you run the risk of being overwhelmed,” adds Mr Balicer. When it comes to public health, optimism is important, but we have a responsibility to prepare for all scenarios. “

Restriction measures are poorly observed

“When we fight against a pandemic, we sometimes have to take risks”, abounds for his part Professor Arnon Afek, deputy director of the Sheba medical center, one of the largest hospitals in the country. Since the start of vaccination, the hospital has carried out a continuous study on 6,000 of its employees. In mid-December, Sheba asked to launch the world’s first study on the fourth dose – authorization from the health ministry was received earlier this week: 150 people between the ages of 20 and 80 started receiving the second booster on Monday .

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Covid-19 in Israel: the dilemma of the fourth dose