Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed health maintenance organizations on Thursday to prepare to expand the campaign to administer third COVID-19 vaccine shots to younger Israelis starting next week.
Hebrew-language media reports said the booster shot drive will be expanded to those 50 and up next week, and possibly to those 40 and up a short time after.
“I estimate that this evening we will receive approval from the team on dealing with pandemics to vaccinate a younger age group with the booster, the 3rd inoculation,” Bennett told HMO officials on Thursday.
“Therefore, you must prepare to expand the range of ages for the 3rd inoculation next week. We are prepared in terms of vaccines in Israel,” he added.
Out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, over 5.8 million have received at least one vaccine dose, and nearly 5.4 million have gotten two.
At the end of last month, Israel rolled out a third vaccine shot to citizens age 60 and up. Over 715,000 have been administered a third booster shot since.
Israel hopes the booster shot will begin to show results soon and slow the growth in the number of serious cases amid the rapid spread of the super-contagious Delta variant of the virus.
Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science who advises the Health Ministry on COVID-19, told Army Radio on Thursday that expanding the booster vaccine to those over 40 could negate the need for a lockdown.
Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash on Thursday said administering the booster shot to those 40 and up should be “seriously considered.”
“As soon as such a decision is made, it will be implemented on Sunday,” Ash told the Ynet news site ahead of a ministry meeting that will discuss the topic.
“We know that the declining [vaccine] effectiveness affects all ages. We see the infections, and even people aged 40 and up can get seriously ill,” he added.
In other attempts to avoid a lockdown, Bennett on Wednesday unveiled a NIS 2.5 billion plan to bolster hospitals ahead of an expected influx of more coronavirus patients.
He defended the government’s decision to allow businesses to remain open and avoid other drastic measures despite rocketing case numbers.
His announcement came a day after health officials reportedly showed him figures forecasting that within a month Israel could see hospitals overrun with 4,800 coronavirus patients, half of whom would be suffering from serious bouts of COVID-19.
“The main weapon for life alongside the coronavirus is vaccines, the Green Pass, and a mask. None of us want to be locked up at home,” coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said in an interview with 103FM radio on Thursday.
“If we see that the decisions aren’t implemented, that people aren’t getting vaccinated, then for lack of an alternative, we may have to state bravely that we have exhausted all our options and there is no alternative to a lockdown,” he added.
Israel recorded 5,946 new cases on Wednesday, continuing the trend of around 6,000 daily cases over the past three days — numbers not seen since February during the country’s most serious outbreak — the Health Ministry said.
There were 421 patients in serious condition as of Thursday morning, out of 748 people hospitalized in coronavirus units. The death toll since the start of the pandemic rose to 6,593, three more than a day earlier.