Fourth COVID shot for all Israelis a possibility, health minister says

Statement comes as top health officials set to hold debate on approving fourth dose for those with compromised immune systems

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz gives a press conference at Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Beersheba, on November 30, 2021. (Flash90)
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz gives a press conference at Soroka Medical Center in the southern city of Beersheba, on November 30, 2021. (Flash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday that it is possible Israelis will soon become eligible for a fourth shot of the COVID vaccine.

Speaking at a Israel Hayom newspaper conference, Horowitz said “it could be” that Israel will at some point approve a fourth dose for the general population, but added: “I don’t know yet. If we see that the vaccine’s efficacy drops after a certain amount of time, even after the booster, we could recommend a fourth dose, it’s possible.”

Horowitz noted that there are vaccines — like the flu shot — which are administered annually. “We will make decisions based on medical need,” he added. “We can see today that the decision here to give the booster to everyone,” before it was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, was justified, Horowitz said. “Otherwise there would have been many more deaths here.”

The health minister credited the widespread booster campaign — 44 percent of the country’s entire population has received a third dose — with Israel’s relatively low COVID case rates compared to soaring caseloads in Europe and other parts of the world.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 5,663 active COVID cases in Israel, with 148 of them hospitalized. There were 106 patients in serious or critical condition, including 58 on ventilators. The rate of positive results from those tested stands at 0.68%, and has remained below 1% since late October.

Health Ministry experts are slated to meet Tuesday evening to weigh approving a fourth COVID vaccine dose for those with compromised immune systems, including those undergoing cancer treatments. Such a move was approved last week in the United Kingdom. The US Centers for Disease Control said in October that those with weakened immune systems can get a fourth dose starting in January.

A man receives a coronavirus vaccine booster at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israelis who are immunocompromised were the first to be approved for a booster dose, back in July, the first in the world to receive the additional shot. Booster doses in Israel were then rolled out to all Israelis over age 60 on August 1, and gradually expanded until all citizens were eligible by the end of the month.

Prof. Arnon Afek, the deputy director of the Sheba Medical Center, said on Monday that a fourth vaccine dose appears to be an inevitability.

“Whoever thinks that we won’t [have a fourth dose] is simply mistaken,” Afek told the Ynet news site. “As long as there is still a pandemic in areas like Africa, which have low vaccination rates, there will be more and more variants.”

Afek said he hopes that such COVID mutations won’t be as contagious and severe as the Delta variant, “but it seems that we will need to take a fourth, and fifth and sixth and seventh doses — who knows how many. But it’s fine, we’re lucky we have them, not every country in the world has vaccines.”

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