Minister says at-risk Israelis can get COVID booster; HMOs unaware of plan

Immunocompromised Israelis hear they are first in world eligible for a third COVID shot. But when they start trying to arrange appointments, they are told no such policy exists

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

A medic prepares a vaccine at Meuhedet COVID-19 vaccination center in Kfar Habad, central Israel, on February 16, 2021. (Flash90)
A medic prepares a vaccine at Meuhedet COVID-19 vaccination center in Kfar Habad, central Israel, on February 16, 2021. (Flash90)

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that COVID booster shots are now available to at-risk adults — but transplant recipients and others trying to book an appointment are being told that no such vaccines have been authorized.

“From now we’re giving a third shot to people who are immunocompromised,” Horowitz told national broadcaster Kan on Sunday morning, in comments that suggest Israel has overnight become the first country to be offering third vaccine doses.

The Health Ministry is evaluating whether to offer boosters to the whole population, added Horowitz.

Horowitz said the allocation of the boosters is now in the hands of health providers, and given to those deemed at risk for various reasons, including lowered protection because they are transplant recipients.

The comments come on the heels of Pfizer’s announcement that it will ask US and European regulators to authorize a booster dose of its COVID vaccine, and as the Delta variant spreads in Israel, causing an increase in infections. The health minister did not explain how such a decision had been reached before regulators have approved boosters.

Despite Horowitz’s remarks, Israel’s health providers or HMOs, which administer vaccines, have no knowledge of the decision.

Spokespeople at two of the organizations, Maccabi and Leumit, confirmed this to The Times of Israel. And patients calling their hotlines are being told that no appointments are available for boosters.

Medical workers at a Leumit Vaccination Center, in Tel Aviv. March 08, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

When The Times of Israel questioned the Health Ministry regarding the matter on Sunday, it was initially told this is old news as immunocompromised people have been receiving boosters for weeks — and then told this was a mistake and guidelines on the issue are in the works.

“Organized guidelines will be issued to all the relevant parties today,” the ministry said in an official response, declining to give any further comment.

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