Israel set to become first country in world to offer COVID boosters to over-50s

Health Ministry expert panel backs move, which is expected to be okayed by ministry chief; HMOs say people can begin scheduling appointments for 3rd shot on Friday

Israelis receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, on August 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israelis receive their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a temporary Clalit health care center in Jerusalem, on August 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A government advisory panel of health experts on Thursday night decided to recommend lowering the age at which Israelis are eligible for a third coronavirus vaccine dose from 60 to 50.

Last month, Israel became the first country in the world to begin administering booster shots to those over 60, and it will once again be a pioneer in the move to begin giving the third vaccine dose to an even younger age group.

Health maintenance organizations Clalit, Maccabi and Meuhedet said those they insure will be able to start scheduling the booster shot on Friday.

The Health Ministry’s Director-General Nachman Ash must still sign off on the recommendation, but is widely expected to do so.

At Thursday’s meeting, some on the panel advocated expanding the age range to those over 40, according to Channel 12 news. The network said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had been putting significant pressure on health officials, cabinet members, and even members of the advisory panel to authorize the shot for over-40s.

Not everyone in the cabinet was on board with lowering the age to 40. Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar argued that the government should start by lowering eligibility for the third dose to those over 50, and only then gradually lowering it further in order to exercise caution, Kan news reported.

Bennett on Thursday praised the recommendation to vaccinate over 50s, calling it “the right decision for the health of Israeli citizens” and “an important step in the fight against the Delta [variant] pandemic.”

He urged all those over 50 to get the shot “as soon as tomorrow morning. Get out and get inoculated. This is about saving lives. It’s in our hands.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accompanies his mother, Myrna, as she gets a COVID-19 booster shot, on August 3, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Also on Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office announced more than 2,000 fines were handed out by police the previous day to those breaking coronavirus regulations — a 400 percent jump from the beginning of the week.

According to figures released by the government, police handed out 64 fines for breaking mandatory quarantine, 72 fines for violations of the Green Pass system and 1,927 fines for not wearing a mask in required areas.

Bennett had directed police to crack down on violators of the government’s COVID-19 restrictions, as part of the effort to stem surging infection rates.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, 445 people are in serious condition from COVID-19 complications, up 43 from midnight. A week ago, there were 262 serious cases in the country.

There are 42,366 active coronavirus cases, with 760 hospitalized patients in total.

The ministry said 5,991 new cases were confirmed on Wednesday, with another 4,048 infections confirmed on Thursday so far.

Since midnight, six people died from COVID, bringing the death toll to 6,602.

Medical staff in the coronavirus ward of the Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem, on July 29, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, Kan reported that health officials were pushing back against Bennett’s plan to increase staff and beds in hospitals across the country in order to ease pressure on the medical system and help avoid another lockdown.

According to the network, health officials and HMO directors told Bennett that new hospital staff would have to come from somewhere, and that currently any changes will require taking doctors and nurses away from the vaccine drive, which is no less important to the government. Kan said Bennett did not provide a clear answer to their concerns.

Earlier in the day, Bennett spoke with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and urged him to speed up regulatory approval of the pharmaceutical giant’s COVID-19 vaccine for those under the age of 12.

Bourla told Bennett he views the issue as one of great importance and will work to the best of his ability to speed up the process, according to the PMO.

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