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Bennett orders vaccinations to take place 24/7

Top health official opposed boosters for over-50s, citing insufficient data

Sharon Alroy-Preis was joined by 31 others on advisory panel who resisted move; some 37,000 over-50s got booster Friday, tens of thousands more scheduled shots

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, at a press conference in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, at a press conference in Jerusalem on June 23, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, voted against the move to begin vaccinating people over 50 with a third shot on Thursday, saying there was “not enough information” to back the decision by the 82-member committee.

Channel 13 news first reported the matter Friday, saying 31 other members of the government advisory panel of health experts voted similarly. However, the decision passed as a majority of the panel voted for it.

The report also said 42 committee members opposed broadening eligibility to all people over 40 at this time, while some 30 voted for it.

Alroy-Preis confirmed her vote against the over-50 vaccination to Channel 12 and Kan news during interviews Friday, saying: “We don’t have all the data… I thought we should first see how the vaccines for over-60s go.

“I thought that at this stage we should prioritize people at the highest risk…We need to see, we need to remember we’re the first country to do it.”

Alroy-Preis did not make clear whether she was concerned over safety or simply doubted whether the booster would have a beneficial effect.

But she indicated that she was behind the eventual decision reached by the panel.

“In the end it’s a panel of professionals that looks at all the data… and makes a decision. My opinion there is not worth more or less [than theirs],” she said.

“It’s okay that I’m sometimes in the minority… What decided the matter was that we have burgeoning infections and we need to use all measures at our disposal to bring it down,” she said.

An Israeli medic administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the coronavirus to a woman at a Clalit Health Services station set up inside the Cinema City complex in Jerusalem, on August 11, 2021 (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Asked if she felt comfortable with doing so long before the US Food and Drug Administration, she answered: “Certainly. I think we’re in front of the rest of the world in this pandemic… Our decisions are made by professionals… who are no less capable than the FDA.”

Israel’s health maintenance organizations said that some 37,500 people over 50 had gotten their third shots Friday, on the first day of the move’s approval, and many tens of thousands more had scheduled appointments to do so.

So far over 800,000 Israelis have received a booster shot, with some half of those this week.

According to data obtained by Ynet, some 62 percent of Israelis aged 70-79 have gotten a booster, and 44.5% of those aged 60-69. Among those aged 80-89 the rate was 57.3%, and in over-90s it was 52.4%.

Meanwhile, some 31,400 Israelis went to get their first shot this week — but about a million more have not been vaccinated at all.

In an audio message distributed Friday in WhatsApp groups and elsewhere, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett implored the public to get the third shot.

“Your lives and your health are very important to me. However, as long as you are not inoculated with the third dose of the vaccine, your lives are in danger,” the premier said.

“The third dose of the vaccine is critical for all ages because there is a certain weakening of the vaccine from month to month. The third dose ‘recharges’ the body with a very powerful defense against the Delta strain.”

Medical staff receive their third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, August 13, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Bennett said Friday he’d instructed HMOs to also vaccinate on nights and on weekends in order to speed up inoculation efforts. He said he hoped to double vaccinations rates by next week, with the aid of military paramedics who would be sent to help HMOs.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said prisoners and prison staff over 40 were also now eligible for the vaccine, as were medical staff over age 30.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, 56, got vaccinated Friday, and said he hoped as many people as possible would do so. “It is our most effective tool to stop Delta,” he said.

According to Channel 12, an agreement has been reached that will see children vaccinated against COVID-19 in schools at the start of the school year. This will see vaccines given at the very start and end of school days.

A pilot program in Haredi institutions will begin next week, the report said.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz receives his third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Meir Medical Center in Kfar Saba, August 13, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Horowitz said Friday: “At the start of the school year we will be vaccinating in schools. We will be vaccinating everywhere because we are in an emergency and we will make every effort we can to get everywhere and vaccinate everyone who needs it.

“Any head of an authority or institution who wants one will receive a mobile [vaccination] unit,” the minister said.

On Thursday, Horowitz told Channel 12 news that schools are efficient locations for reaching unvaccinated children and, with the permission of their parents, inoculating them.

Health officials had tussled on the matter with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton, who opposes giving shots during the school day and has courted controversy by previously calling the idea of vaccinating students in schools a “crime.”

In an apparent challenge to Shasha-Biton over who has the final word on vaccinating children in schools, Horowitz said Thursday that “the authority over health, including inside schools, is that of the Health Ministry, that is the law.”

Horowitz added that “the decision regarding vaccinations and everything to do with health is the decision of the health minister, and that is my authority according to the law.”

A health worker takes test samples from children in Jerusalem on August 11, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

After Israel appeared to have put the coronavirus pandemic behind it in June, the past two months have seen a rapidly accelerating spread in morbidity, fueled by the highly contagious Delta variant.

According to the latest figures on Friday, 453 people are in serious condition from COVID-19. Health Ministry data showed that among unvaccinated Israelis aged 60-plus, there are 120.9 people per 100,000 in serious condition. Among the vaccinated the figure is 19.1 and the partially vaccinated figure was 45.3.

The government has made vaccination its main weapon in beating back the resurgent virus, with shots now available to all those over the age of 12.

With the opening of the academic year just over two weeks away, the government has approved a plan on how to operate schools during the pandemic that will rely on extensive virus testing of pupils, in order to rapidly spot those who are infected and quarantine them and prevent them from passing on the virus to others.

However, September will also see the High Holidays, when schools are closed. With just nine scheduled study days scattered throughout the month, some have suggested delaying the school year until October, which would also give more time to clamp down on the wave of infections.

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