Sefi Mendelovich to become new Health Ministry deputy chief

Health officials said to believe Israel can reach herd immunity within 2 months

Health Ministry experts urge Israelis to administer home COVID tests before celebrating Rosh Hashanah with friends and family members

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

A health worker takes a swab sample from a man at a coronavirus testing site in the northern city of Safed, August 31, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
A health worker takes a swab sample from a man at a coronavirus testing site in the northern city of Safed, August 31, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials believe Israel could be heading toward herd immunity against COVID-19, a report said Sunday evening.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, ministry experts believe that if the high rate of vaccinations continues alongside high levels of new COVID-19 cases as Israel marks a month of Jewish holidays, “there is a good chance that in the next month or two, we’ll reach a situation that is very similar to herd immunity.”

Health officials believe that tens of thousands of Israelis will test positive for COVID-19 in the coming weeks and that many more will receive a third booster dose of the vaccine. Combined, the report claims, more than 80 percent of the population will be relatively protected from the disease, a situation similar to that seen in early June, when new cases slowed to just a trickle.

According to a Channel 13 news report, those who have received a third dose are 96% protected from being infected with COVID-19, starting a week after receiving the shot. The report claimed that those who have just two doses are currently just 42% protected from infection.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to take a home coronavirus test before celebrating the Rosh Hashanah festival with family members on Monday evening. The ministry also called on people to hold family meals and prayer services outside when possible.

According to Channel 12 news, the number of tests performed on Sunday is expected to be the highest since the outbreak of the pandemic last year.

An Israeli woman receives a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit clinic on September 1, 2021, in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Last year, Israelis celebrated Rosh Hashanah under lockdown, but the current government has resisted reimposing sweeping restrictions to contain a recent surge in morbidity, instead relying on vaccinations and more limited curbs on gatherings.

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash defended the decision on Sunday not to impose a lockdown over the holidays, saying that while “there are concerns,” there are also “clear signs” of declining morbidity, such as a modest drop in serious cases.

“I’m sure we’ll celebrate the holidays safely,” he told Channel 12.

As of Sunday evening, there were 84,218 active coronavirus cases in Israel, with 1,096 hospitalized, including 677 in serious condition and 157 on ventilators. The number of those seriously ill has trended slightly downward over the past week, from a peak of 753 last Sunday.

At least 11 people died on Sunday morning and afternoon, 27 people died on Saturday and 29 on Friday. According to the Ynet news site, more than half of the 122 Israelis who died of the coronavirus over the past five days — since the beginning of September — were unvaccinated. The report stated that 65 of them were completely unvaccinated, 42 were vaccinated but did not receive a booster shot, and 15 of them also had a third dose.

By Sunday evening, 2,622,010 Israelis — 28% of the total population — have already received a third booster dose. More than six million — 65% of the population — have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Hospital staff at Hadassah Ein Kerem wear safety gear as they work in the coronavirus ward of the Hadassah Ein Kerem medical center in Jerusalem on August 25, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The number of Israelis hospitalized in serious condition with COVID-19 complications who are not completely vaccinated has surpassed those who are fully vaccinated, marking the first time that has happened during the current wave of morbidity, Kan reported.

Also Sunday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee voted to allow children who hold a disability certification to be exempt from presenting a COVID-19 Green Pass in public places where they are required.

The Health Ministry also announced Sunday that Itamar Grotto, the former deputy director of the Health Ministry, will be replaced by Dr. Sefi Mendelovich, the deputy director of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Grotto announced his intention to step down from the role in November, but his replacement had not been named, until now.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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