Public health chief Sharon Alroy-Preis said on Saturday that officials were debating whether to offer a third booster shot to Israelis, or to wait for a vaccine that is specifically tailored for the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
“We are checking if we should give a third dose, or whether we should wait for a vaccine against Delta,” the head of public health at the Health Ministry told Channel 12.
The comment came after a health ministry committee on vaccines reportedly voted on Thursday against recommending a third booster shot for the elderly, saying it would be more effective to wait for a vaccine specifically targeting the Delta variant that is being developed by Pfizer.
According to the report by the Kan public broadcaster, the committee members said that even though the effectiveness of the vaccines appears to be wearing off, it would be more effective to wait for a booster shot tailored to the strain. The final decision will now go to Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash.
Last week, Israel began administering booster doses to those with weakened immune systems, including heart, liver and kidney transplant patients, despite the lack of approval from overseas regulatory agencies.
But Health Ministry officials have indicated that third doses for the general population are not imminent, stressing that the vaccine remains largely effective.
Alroy-Preis also said on Saturday that the COVID-19 pandemic “is still here, we need to learn to live with it.”
As Israelis increasingly make international trips, Alroy-Preis emphasized the need for quarantine regulations to be obeyed and said that the Health Ministry was working to identify the level of risks in other countries.
“We have to understand that the tests are not 100 percent [as a measure]. We have known this for a while. Tests are not an alternative to quarantine,” she said.
After COVID morbidity and mortality reached record lows, following a mass vaccination campaign, Israel has seen a jump in infections that has been largely blamed on the Delta variant.
Israel may vaccinate children against COVID-19 in schools, according to a report on Friday, as the country moves toward the start of the school year amid a resurgent wave of coronavirus cases.
The government has been campaigning to get as many children aged 12 and up vaccinated, and could require those who are not to present negative tests before being allowed into school, a report from Channel 12 said.
The report came as the health and education ministries are expected to publish their proposals for the upcoming school year on Sunday. Most schools return at the end of August, but ultra-Orthodox schools start on August 8th.
The restrictions and the push to vaccinate children 12 and up come as the government has reimplemented some restrictions as daily coronavirus cases continue to climb.
Ministers approved reinstating the “Green Pass” on Thursday, limiting attendance at large events to those who are vaccinated, have recovered from COVID-19, or who present a valid negative test result.
The renewed restrictions will apply to both indoor and outdoor events with over 100 participants, starting on July 29. The requirement to present proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test from the past 72 hours will only apply to people 12 and older. Under that age, there will be no restrictions, though rules for those under 12 are expected to be announced in the future.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the Green Pass will also be reinstated at sporting events, gyms, restaurants, conferences, tourist attractions and houses of worship, while stressing there won’t be capacity limitations on gatherings or at these venues.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the country would start requiring the unvaccinated to pay out of pocket for COVID tests.
“There is no reason that taxpayers and those who fulfill their civic duty to get vaccinated will fund tests for those who refuse to get vaccinated,” he said. It was not immediately clear if this would also apply to school children.
Bennett issued a fresh appeal for all Israelis to get the coronavirus vaccine, accusing those eligible to get vaccinated who have not done so of endangering the rest of the country.
“One million Israelis are refusing to get vaccinated,” Bennett said. “They are endangering the entire population, they are endangering the other 8 million citizens in the country.”
He warned that the vaccine holdouts could cause the government to impose the fourth national lockdown since the pandemic began.
Government figures show that over 5.7 million Israelis have received at least one shot of the coronavirus vaccine.
Those age 19 and under are responsible for more than 20% of all cases, but just 40% of those between 10 and 19 have gotten at least one shot. Vaccines are offered to those aged 12 and up.
According to new Health Ministry figures released Saturday, 1,430 new cases were confirmed on Friday, with a further 670 cases since midnight, bringing active infections to 11,102.
The number of patients in serious condition rose to 89, and one fatality took the death toll to 6,458.