Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash approved on Wednesday a fourth round of COVID-19 vaccines shots for those over the age of 18 who have medical conditions that put them at greater risk from the coronavirus.
The extra doses will also be available for carers of at-risk people, and those whose vocation includes a high chance of exposure to an infected person, the ministry said in a statement.
Fourth shots will only be given at least four months after a person has received their third vaccine dose, the ministry said.
Ash’s approval reflected only partial adoption of the recommendations from a ministry advisory panel that said the additional dose should be made available for all those over the age of 18.
The ministry said the decision to approve fourth vaccines for at-risk groups came on the basis of data showing that a fourth vaccine dose for those aged 60 and up offers 3-5 times the protection against serious illness and twofold protection against infection when compared to just three vaccine doses.
The current wave of infections, which, fueled by the Omicron variant, has driven up the number of seriously ill patients, was also given as a reason by the ministry.
On Sunday the Health Ministry cited the same assessment of the greater protection a fourth vaccine dose provides for those aged 60 and up, and pointed to an initial analysis by experts from various leading academic and health institutions comparing recipients of a fourth dose with those who received a third dose at least four months ago.
The conclusions were based on 400,000 Israelis who received the fourth vaccine and 600,000 who received three doses, with the ministry stressing that the methodology is similar to previous papers the experts have published in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine the ministry said at the time.
However, last week, preliminary results of a study conducted by Sheba Medical Center revealed that although a fourth dose of the vaccine increased the level of antibodies in the blood, it did not seem to offer protection against infection by the Omicron variant.
Health Ministry numbers published Wednesday showed there were 76,155 new cases of COVID diagnosed the day before.
So far, out of Israel’s 9.5 million population, 6,687,933 have had at least one vaccine shot, of which have had two 6,072,764 and 4,432,322 the third booster as well. Of those, 614,953 have had the fourth booster.
The number of seriously ill patients has jumped over the past week, rising from 539 to 915.
The death toll since the start of the pandemic in early 2020 was given as 8,513, following the death of 14 people the day before.
With Israel seemingly hitting the peak of its fifth wave of infections, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, Ash instructed hospital directors on Monday to prepare for a potential delay of non-life-saving treatments. In a letter to directors of hospitals across Israel, Ash said they should be prepared for an influx of COVID patients and should clear beds to make room, including in wards not dedicated to treating the virus.