Health maintenance organizations on Friday started administering a third COVID-19 vaccine shot to the elderly, making Israel the first country in the world to do so.
The Clalit and Meuhedet HMOs began to vaccinate those over 60 with a third dose on Friday morning, while the Maccabi health provider will begin doing so on Sunday.
Israel’s decision to begin administering third doses came amid a struggle to contain a recent wave of coronavirus infections that has seen case numbers rocket from just dozens a day a month ago, to an average daily caseload of over 2,000 this week.
The third dose is unlikely to halt the rise in cases, but is expected to reduce the risk of serious COVID-19 illness among the elderly population.
The US Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve third doses.
President Isaac Herzog, 60, along with his wife Michal, were among the first to receive the third shot on Friday.
Before receiving his shot, Herzog hailed the booster shots as “an important step for social solidarity in the State of Israel,” citing the need to prevent the elderly from getting sick.
He added: “I am proud we are the first country to vaccinate with a third dose.”
The step we are doing here is an important one for social solidarity in the State of Israel,” Herzog said in remarks before getting the shot, citing the need to prevent the elderly from getting sick.
Appearing alongside Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said “Israel is a pioneer in going ahead with the third dose for older people.”
“The fight against the COVID pandemic is a global fight. The only way we can defeat COVID — is together. Together means sharing information, methods, technologies, and actionable steps,” he said. “Israel is open to sharing all the information we can gain from this bold move.”
The Prime Minister’s Office later said Bennett asked Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, 70, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, 67, to also get booster shots.
“The two agreed to the prime minister’s request and noted they will do so soon, out of the understanding of the importance of conveying the message to the public,” a statement from Bennett’s office said.
Bennett said Thursday that he would be taking his mother as well to get the third dose, and encouraged others to do the same with their elderly family members.
“Call your parents and your grandparents now, and make sure they get the complementary vaccine, the third vaccine,” said Bennett, who is too young at this stage to receive the third dose.
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who in recent weeks has been urging Israel’s new government to begin administrating the third vaccine dose, got his third shot Friday.
“They wasted a month unnecessarily… but better late than never,” Netanyahu said.
According to a Wednesday report, Netanyahu, 71, had been pushing for the third dose after discovering his level of coronavirus antibodies had dropped significantly. While prime minister, he was the first person in Israel to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, with infections rising in many countries, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on Thursday approved the addition of Britain, Turkey, Georgia, and Cyprus to the list of nations where travelers are believed to have the highest risk of contracting COVID-19.
As of Friday, those countries will join the list of destinations to which Israelis are barred from travel, save for exceptional cases to be determined by a special committee.
Israelis traveling to those destinations are subject to a NIS 5,000 ($1,500) fine, as well as being required to fully quarantine upon return.
Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, said Thursday that Belgium, Greece, and the United Arab Emirates are to join the list of banned countries next week.
Alroy-Preis’s comments came after dozens of anti-vaxxers staged a protest outside her home on Wednesday, with some participants heard calling her the “daughter of the devil” and a “Nazi murderer.” The protest came after an anonymous source bad-mouthed her to the press over what they claim is her extreme stance in favor of ramping up Israel’s vaccination drive among children.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton stirred controversy on Thursday by saying that vaccinating children against COVID-19 in schools is “a crime.”
Children currently receive a number of vaccines throughout their school years, with the permission of parents. Shasha-Biton tried to explain why she won’t do the same with COVID-19 vaccines by saying kids may face bullying if their parents are anti-vaccination.
“We are talking about children who have been at home for a year and a half and are in emotional distress. It is a very sensitive subject,” she said.
However, 25 local councils announced they were prepared to vaccinate school children anyway.
“We will make every effort, with the permission of children and parents, to take care of the children’s health and to attempt to increase the vaccination rate among youth, to reduce the rate of infection,” Haim Bibas, the head of the national mayors union told the Kan public broadcaster.
Just 26-percent of 12-year-olds eligible for the vaccine have taken the shot, according to Health Ministry data. Among 13-15 year-olds, the rate is slightly higher at 36%, and with 16-19-year-olds the rate jumps to 75%, according to the ministry.
Vaccination stations are to be placed by the entrance of schools, and possibly even inside them, Kan reported.
Health Ministry figures on Friday showed there were 2,140 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed the day before, the fourth day in a row that the number was above 2,000, a daily caseload not seen since March.
There were 167 patients in serious condition, an increase of 25 since midnight.
Of the over 91,202 tests performed Saturday, 2.37 percent came back positive — a rate similar to that in recent days.
There are 16,162 active virus cases in the country, Health Ministry data showed. Two months ago that figure was around 200.
The death toll stood at 6,466, with two new fatalities recorded Thursday, according to the ministry.