Of the first 600,000 or so Israelis who received a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, fewer than 50 reported experiencing side effects, the Health Ministry said Monday evening.
The symptoms reported were all mild — such as pain at the injection site, fever and nausea — and passed quickly, the ministry said in a statement.
The government is still in its early stages of distributing the booster shots, and only a select number of groups such as immunocompromised Israelis, healthcare staff and those over 60 are currently eligible to receive a third dose.
Officials have been trying to encourage Israelis to receive the shots in the hope that a critical mass of vaccinations in the coming weeks could avert a national lockdown to stem the spread of the ultra-contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman was the latest senior official to speak out Monday against imposing a nationwide lockdown. No senior official has voiced their support for the extreme measure at this stage, and health officials insist that the goal is to avoid imposing it. However, some have said that it may be inevitable if case numbers continue to rise.
Liberman, in a briefing with reporters, said that the goal of keeping the economy functioning in the midst of the pandemic is not a new challenge and that “we have to make an effort and do everything we can to prevent a lockdown.”
“It is not clear that there is a correlation between lockdowns and a decrease in the number of cases and seriously ill patients, but it is clear that there is a correlation between lockdowns and economic damage,” the finance minister said.
Liberman went on to compare the COVID-19 pandemic to the flu, saying thst just as Israelis “know how to live alongside the flu, the same thing [should be the case with the] coronavirus.”
He argued that there are enough vaccinated Israelis, along with individuals who have recovered from the coronavirus, to allow the country to continue to operate without another lockdown.
Liberman said the government was prepared to institute a number of measures in order to avoid a lockdown, from “strengthening the hospital system, to incentivizing as many people to get vaccinated as possible, to offering rapid coronavirus tests, to implementing the Green Pass [restrictions on crowding].”
He claimed that such measures have worked in the UK and other European countries and that they can work in Israel as well.
On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed Public Security Minister Omer Barlev and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai to increase enforcement against violators of coronavirus restrictions over the next eight weeks, including at the expense of other operations, in order to help prevent Israel from entering a fourth lockdown since the start of the pandemic.
According to a Sunday Channel 12 report, senior ministers are weighing implementing an emergency plan to provide relief to the healthcare system and prevent a fourth national lockdown.
The three-pronged plan would see the number of hospital beds and nurses increased throughout the country; some of the responsibility for coronavirus treatment transferred from hospitals to health management organizations; and a portion of the seriously ill COVID-19 patients — such as those not hooked up to ventilators — released for treatment at home.
In doing so, health officials hope they’ll be able to prevent hospitals from overflowing, even if cases continue to spike. Because much of the decision to implement a national lockdown would be based on whether the hospital system can withstand the uptick in cases, the government hopes that the emergency proposal will, at the very least, buy additional time before a shutdown is required, or in the best case scenario, allow ministers to shelve such plans entirely, according to Channel 12.
Buying time for the government is particularly critical as Israel is still in the early stages of its distribution of the third dose of the coronavirus vaccine, which health officials hope will lead to a slowdown in cases, particularly serious ones.
The Health Ministry is also considering imposing further gathering restrictions in an attempt to curb the surge in cases, according to Channel 12.
The network said Monday that the ministry is seeking to limit the number of people gathering indoors to 50, and outdoors to 100, as well as to require the so-called Purple Badge standard for stringent hygiene and social distancing measures in public spaces where the Green Pass — proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus or a recent positive test — is not required.
The report added that the ministry is also seeking to allow children under the age of 12 to receive a Green Pass, even as they are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
The ministry said that out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, over 5.8 million have received at least one vaccine dose, nearly 5.4 million have gotten two and nearly 550,000 have been administered a third booster shot.
The third dose has been restricted so far to those over the age of 60, and the immunocompromised. Israel’s 60+ population stands at some 1,572,000, according to the Health Ministry.
The Health Ministry released new figures Monday evening showing a continued rise in serious coronavirus cases, with 84 new patients on Sunday and 66 by Monday evening, bringing the total current number to 373.
Israel’s virus death toll was at 6,555, with 14 fatalities recorded on Sunday.
The figures showed 3,417 people were diagnosed with the virus on Sunday at a positive test rate of 3.9 percent, with an additional 3,609 cases identified by Monday evening, bringing the total number of cases in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 904,874.