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3rd COVID shot highly potent in Israel’s immunocompromised, early study shows

Beilinson Medical Center research finds that twice as many organ transplant recipients developed antibodies after 3rd dose compared to those who had only 2 doses

Israelis aged 60+ receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Tel Aviv, on August 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis aged 60+ receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Tel Aviv, on August 10, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The COVID-19 vaccine booster shot is highly effective for immunocompromised people, doubling the number of people who developed antibodies among patients who have received heart, lung or kidney transplants, according to early results from research carried out at Beilinson Medical Center in Petah Tikva.

The initial results of the study, released by the hospital on Tuesday and currently under peer review for publication in a medical journal, found that 73 percent of those who previously received a kidney transplant developed antibodies and an immune reaction to the third vaccine dose, while only 35% had developed antibodies after the second shot.

The initial results released on Tuesday were based on 40 immunocompromised patients who had been tested for antibodies before and after receiving their third shots. The full study will be based on 300 patients, the hospital said.

No major side effects were observed apart from pain at the place of the injection.

“We recommend that all those who have received organ transplants come and get vaccinated with the third vaccine shot, which saves lives,” said Dr. Tuvia Ben Gal, director of Beilinson’s heart failure unit, in a statement accompanying the findings.

Meanwhile according to one top expert, initial data being gathered in the healthcare system suggests the booster shots are generally helping prevent COVID-19 infections.

“The indications we’re receiving are indeed very preliminary but they are very, very good in [terms of] preventing infection,” Gabi Barbash, a former Health Ministry director, told Channel 12 news.

He added that there would be better data on the booster’s efficiency toward the weekend and said if the figures “look as they do now,” the Health Ministry would likely recommend those over 40 get a third vaccine shot.

Israel started offering third dose COVID vaccine shots to all adults with impaired immune systems last month, citing “accumulating evidence” indicating they aren’t protected well enough after their initial doses.

A man receives a booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center outside of Tel Aviv, on July 12, 2021. (Courtesy Sheba Medical Center)

The Health Ministry decision was based on deliberations by Israeli doctors and officials. It was made before regulators like the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have authorized boosters for such people.

This is not the first time Israel has moved head of US or European regulators: In early 2021, Jerusalem authorized vaccines for immunocompromised children before the FDA embraced shots for kids.

Later in July, Israel rolled out a third vaccine shot to healthcare staff and citizens over the age of 60, in another pioneering step.

The Health Ministry said on Monday that, of the first 600,000 or so Israelis who received a third dose of the vaccine, fewer than 50 reported experiencing side effects.

Officials have been trying to encourage Israelis to receive the shots, in the hope that a critical mass of vaccinations in the coming weeks could avert a national lockdown to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.

On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to increase enforcement against violators of coronavirus restrictions over the next eight weeks, including at the expense of other operations, in order to help prevent Israel from entering its fourth lockdown since the start of the pandemic.

The closed shops at Dizengof Center in Tel Aviv during a nationwide lockdown, on January 7, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, over 5.8 million have received at least one vaccine dose, nearly 5.4 million have gotten two and nearly 580,000 have been administered a third booster shot.

At the same time, more than 6,000 people in the country tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday, a daily figure not seen since early February. Additionally, the number of serious cases edged closer to 400.

Out of 130,669 tests carried out on Monday, 6,275 came back positive, for a positivity rate of 4.84% — the highest rate in Israel since early March.

As of Tuesday morning, 648 people with COVID are hospitalized, with 394 in serious condition, including 64 on ventilators.

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