Health Ministry said to mull vaccines for recovered COVID patients

Senior ministry official says scientific communities in Israel and abroad looking at whether those who already had coronavirus only need 1 shot instead of the usual 2

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centerl in Safed, on February 14, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centerl in Safed, on February 14, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is reportedly considering changing its policy regarding vaccinating those who have recovered from COVID-19 and may give them the shots too, as part of the country’s mass inoculation program.

Until now recovered virus patients were not entitled to be vaccinated by the healthcare system.

Dr. Orly Greenfield, the Health Ministry’s medical director of the national campaign against the virus, on Sunday confirmed that the matter is under review, telling Channel 12, “Apparently, we will also vaccinate those who have recovered.”

Greenfield said there is an ongoing discussion in the ministry of when to begin vaccinating recovered patients and also how many shots they should be given.

Israel is using the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccination for its immunization program, but Greenfield noted there is a debate in the scientific community, in Israel and abroad, as to whether recovered patients need both shots.

Last week, an Israeli study found that there was a robust immune response from recovered COVID-19 patients who were vaccinated, indicating that immunity lasts, even if antibody levels appear to drop.

Most vaccines work by first “showing” a copy of the coronavirus to a body’s immune system with the first dose, allowing it to learn how to fight it off. The second dose introduces an antigen that is designed to provoke a large response by virus-fighting antibodies, which rush to protect the body and create phalanxes of copies ready to do battle should the real SARS-COV-2 show up.

People who have already been infected COVID-19 have these virus-fighting antibodies once they recover, but testing has shown that the antibodies eventually fade, leading to fears of reinfection.

However, researchers at Ziv Medical Center in the Galilee city of Safed found that a small sample of recovered patients who were given the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine had the full-scale immune response that most people only have upon receiving a second dose.

Recent Health Ministry figures show that, as of February 8, the Health Ministry has recorded 861 cases of people who were reinfected with the coronavirus within three months of first catching the virus, Channel 12 reported.

The station said that the ministry has suggested there could be two reasons for the phenomenon. The first is that those who were asymptomatic during their first bout with the virus, or who only had light symptoms, may not have developed long-term immunity.

Another possibility is that the patients were infected with a mutation of the virus against which their earlier illness did not produce a defense.

Since the start of the virus outbreak early last year 723,726 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel and 5,378 have died of COVID-19, according to Health Ministry figures released Sunday.

Israel has so far given both vaccine doses to 2,505,491 people — over a quarter of the population, the data showed. There are 3,871,898 people who have had at least the first dose of the vaccine.

New mutations of the virus, and in particular the so-called British strain, have been blamed for keeping infection rates high during an ongoing national lockdown, now in its sixth week, that was applied alongside the vaccination drive. The last few days have seen a slight downward trend in infections, which health officials assess as an indication that the measures are finally working.

Though some lockdown restrictions have been eased, the government has made an effective vaccination program a key element to eventually ending the lockdown.

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