Health Ministry advisory board decides against fourth COVID shot, for now

Experts also don’t recommend cutting down period between second vaccine dose and booster, but propose increasing recovery period for Omicron patients

Israelis recieve a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a health center in Katzrin, Golan Heights, December 12, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
Israelis recieve a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a health center in Katzrin, Golan Heights, December 12, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Health Ministry experts advising on COVID-19 policy decided overnight Sunday against recommending a fourth vaccine shot for the general population, a measure that has been raised as a possibility by the health minister and the premier.

An advisory panel on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic also decided, along with the ministry’s vaccination panel, against reducing the period between receiving a second inoculation dose and a third, booster shot from the current six months to just three months. The idea was considered as a way to more quickly increase overall immunity in the population due to the spread of the new, highly infectious Omicron variant.

However, the experts did advise on extending the recovery period for confirmed Omicron patients and that they be given a booster shot three months after they are clear of infection. The general recovery period for coronavirus patients is ten days, after which they can exit quarantine, but the experts advised that for Omicron patients recovery should be 14 days.

Regarding other potential vaccine plans, the two panels decided against giving a second dose to recovered COVID patients who have already had one vaccine shot, or a booster to those who have already had two doses and were then infected.

A fourth (or second booster) shot just for the elderly or immunocompromised was also ruled out.

The recommendations will now pass to Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash for review and approval.

In a statement, the ministry said there was a “consensus on the need to deepen the vaccination of populations that have not yet completed three doses and to bolster the protection of at-risk populations.”

The recommendations came after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday that Israel was “preparing for the need” to administer fourth shots in the new year, starting with the immunocompromised. Last week Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz also talked about the possible need for a second booster.

In his remarks, Bennett lamented Israel’s “horrible” immunization rate, as the government pushed for higher vaccine numbers, particularly of the booster shot, to curb the spread of Omicron.

Later Sunday, the head of public health at the Health Ministry announced that Israelis will be barred from visiting the United Kingdom and Denmark, as the government tightens travel restrictions and quarantine requirements due to fears over the new variant.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said the countries will be added to the list of “red” nations in the coming 72 hours.

Horowitz said additional countries will be classified as “red” in the coming days, but stressed that the government does not currently plan to bar international travel entirely.

Fifteen new Omicron cases were found Sunday in the country, bringing the total to 67, according to Health Ministry figures. Of those, 14 were infected after being exposed to people who returned from trips abroad. There are another 80 suspected cases.

All Israelis over the age of 5 are eligible for the coronavirus vaccine.

So far, of the country’s 9.5 million residents, 6,408,357 have had at least one shot, of whom 5,790,662 have had a second and 4,125,553 have had the third, booster dose as well.

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