Israelis over 60 flock to receive COVID vaccine booster dose

As Israel becomes 1st country to widely administer 3rd shot, PM says goal is to vaccinate everyone eligible by month’s end; tells health care providers to work ‘five times’ as fast

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

Rachel Gershon, 83, receives a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from a Magen David Adom national emergency service volunteer, at a private nursing home, in Netanya on August 1, 2021. (AP Photo/ Oded Balilty)
Rachel Gershon, 83, receives a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from a Magen David Adom national emergency service volunteer, at a private nursing home, in Netanya on August 1, 2021. (AP Photo/ Oded Balilty)

Demand for the third booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine was high across the country, Israel’s health maintenance organizations reported on Sunday, the first official day of the rollout for people over 60.

Still, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged healthcare providers to administer the shot — available to all those over 60 who received their second dose more than five months ago — even faster.

“The situation is good, but we have to pick up the pace,” Bennett told the heads of Maccabi, Meuhedet, Leumit, and Clalit on Sunday evening. “Our daily rate needs to be five times what it is now…. Our goal is to vaccinate everyone by the end of the month. It’s ambitious, but it’s possible.”

The heads of the HMOs told Bennett that there is a high level of demand for the third dose, to the degree that some of their phone lines crashed due to the number of people calling to schedule appointments.

The Prime Minister’s Office said that, per an agreement with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the military will assist the HMOs in the vaccination campaign.

According to Clalit, the country’s largest HMO, 17,000 eligible Israelis have already received a third dose and 110,000 have made an appointment for the coming days; Maccabi said 11,000 have gotten the shot, while close to 72,000 have made an appointment; Meuhedet reported that 3,000 received the dose and more than 53,000 have appointments, and Leumit said 15,000 appointments have been made.

An Israeli man receives a third coronavirus vaccine shot at a Maccabi Healthcare Services vaccination center on August 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The response has been amazing and the public is voting with their feet,” Leumit CEO Haim Fernandes told Ynet. “I assume that, in the coming days, the pace will be very impressive, and our aim is that we will get to very high vaccination rates during this month, to protect the most at-risk population.”

Health Ministry officials told Kan news that in order for the third dose to be effective in halting the rising rate of serious cases, at least one million Israelis would need to receive it. The effects of the third dose will take several weeks to be seen, officials said.

The Health Ministry’s move to administer third shots to a wide population, making Israel the first country to do so, was enacted after data showed a drop in the vaccine’s efficacy after six months. Data released by the ministry suggested that people vaccinated in January appeared to have just 16% protection against infection now, while in those vaccinated in April the effectiveness was at 75%. Some experts have questioned the veracity of the data, but most agree that there is no harm in administering a third dose, even if it may not end up boosting protection.

And with just weeks to go until the new school year is slated to open, government officials are still working on a framework to allow classes to proceed as normal despite the rising number of cases. According to Channel 13 news, officials from the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan have presented a plan to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to enable minimal interruptions to school studies.

Under the proposal, any students exposed to a COVID-19 patient must all be tested; those who test positive will have to quarantine and those who test negative can continue to attend class, but must be tested daily for a week.

As of Sunday evening, there were 18,368 active COVID cases in Israel, with 367 people hospitalized and 206 in serious condition. On Friday, 2,437 people in Israel tested positive for COVID, a high not seen since early March.

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