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Health Ministry to mull third virus vaccine dose for those over 40

Ministry’s vaccination panel to convene Thursday on matter; HMO report says booster is 86% effective at preventing infection

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A couple receives their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on August 17, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A couple receives their third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, on August 17, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry’s vaccination committee will hold a meeting Thursday to decide on expanding its coronavirus vaccine booster program to anyone 40 and up.

Currently, the third shots are only available to those age 50-plus.

The ministry’s director-general Nachman Ash said Wednesday evening he hoped the panel would approve third shots for those aged 40 and over, amid fresh data showing the booster’s effectiveness.

The meeting will also look at offering the booster shot to teachers and other school staff, with schools set to open on September 1 despite a major surge in new coronavirus cases.

Infections among vaccinated individuals age 60 and over, who were first to receive the booster shot, have begun to slow as the third dose has appeared to begin to have an effect on morbidity rates, according to data presented this week.

The Maccabi health maintenance organization published figures Tuesday indicating that the vaccine boosters had an 86 percent success rate at preventing those over the age of 60 from catching the coronavirus.

The HMO examined some 150,000 people over 60 who had received a third shot at least a week earlier, and compared them to 700,000 people in that age group who had received only two shots more than five months previously.

Among those who received a booster, only 37 were found to have coronavirus infections while among those with just two shots there were 1,064 infected people.

“The third vaccine shot is effective against contagion and also serious infection,” said Anat Ekka Zohar, head of Maccabi’s Information and Digital Health Division.

She called on all those 50 and up who have not yet had a third vaccine injection to do so.

“The effectiveness of the [third] vaccine is proving itself also against the Delta variant and it is the solution to the halting the wide morbidity,” she said.

Maccabi Healthcare Services stats analyst Anat Ekka Zohar (courtesy of Anat Ekka Zohar)

Israel began giving third coronavirus shots to those 60 and up at the end of July and then last week dropped the age limit to 50.

After dropping daily infection numbers to barely more than a dozen in mid-June the country has experienced a surge in COVID-19 infection, driven by the highly contagious Delta variant, which has seen the daily caseload climb to over 7,000.

Health officials expect the numbers to climb even higher and have warned the government that, at current rates, during September the number of patients requiring hospital treatment will reach 5,000, half of whom will be in serious condition.

The government has made vaccination a central plank in its effort to cope with the predicted wave, while also drawing up plans to greatly increase hospital COVID-19 treatment capabilities, including hiring thousands more medical staff as needed.

Health Ministry figures released Thursday showed there were 7,832 people diagnosed with the virus the day before. Of the 59.278 active COVID-19 patients in the country, 578 were in serious condition. Since the start of the pandemic, 6,708 people are known to have died of the coronavirus in Israel.

Of Israel’s roughly 9.3 million citizens, so far 1,132,594 people have had the third vaccine dose, 5,426,552 have had at least two doses, and 5,862,763 have had at least one shot.

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