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Bennett says Israel is ‘very close’ to approving a COVID booster shot

Health Ministry data has shown that those who were first to receive the Pfizer COVID vaccine are more likely now to be infected, apparently due to diminishing effectiveness

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen (L) and Labor and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (R) visit a retirement home in Jerusalem, July 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen (L) and Labor and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen (R) visit a retirement home in Jerusalem, July 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

During a visit to a retirement home in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel could soon approve a third COVID booster shot.

“We’re on top of it, believe me,” said Bennett. “For at least a month [we’ve been working on] things that need to come to fruition. We’re very close. The less we talk about it, the greater chance it’ll happen. I’m on it.”

The prime minister did not specify which populations would receive the booster, but recent media reports have indicated government discussions have focused on administering it to the elderly.

Israel began administering a third booster shot two weeks ago to those with severely compromised immune systems, including transplant recipients and those with blood cancers — setting a world precedent.

Recent data released by the Health Ministry shows that those who were first to receive their two doses of the Pfizer COVID vaccine are more likely now to be infected, as the vaccines appears to lose protection potency over time.

“We looked at tens of thousands of people tested in the month of June, alongside data on how long had passed since their second shot, and found that those vaccinated early were more likely to test positive,” Dr. Yotam Shenhar, who headed the research, told The Times of Israel last week.

A man receives a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center on July 12, 2021. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Data released by the Health Ministry last week suggested that people vaccinated in January have just 16% protection against infection now, while in those vaccinated in April, the effectiveness was at 75%.

Some analysts have warned that the figures on vaccine effectiveness are prone to major inaccuracies because of a range of factors, including questions over whether there is accurate data on infection levels among the non-vaccinated, which is vital for such stats. And British data indicates the Israeli studies may be overstating the case.

Nevertheless, Bennett reiterated his call on Tuesday for anyone eligible who is still not vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.

“I am seeing to it that our stocks of vaccines will be full,” he said. “The public needs to go and get vaccinated and thereby protect not only ourselves but our grandparents as well.”

More than 2,000 Israelis tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, a high not seen since mid-March. There are currently 138 serious cases in Israel, more than double the figure one week ago.

On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, said the issue of booster shots is under discussion.

Fauci said government experts are reviewing early data as they consider whether to recommend that vaccinated individuals get booster shots. He suggested that some of the most vulnerable, such as organ transplant and cancer patients, are “likely” to be recommended for booster shots.

Nathan Jeffay and AP contributed to this report.

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