Virus czar rejects Netanyahu’s prediction of another vaccine round in 6 months

Nachman Ash says that while it is expected Israelis will need further shots for protection against COVID, the timeframe is still unclear

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash during a visit to the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Contradicting assertions by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the previous day that Israelis would undergo another round of coronavirus vaccinations in six months’ time, national virus czar Nachman Ash said Wednesday that he doesn’t know when the expected campaign will happen.

“I can’t say when we will get another vaccine [shot], perhaps in six months, perhaps in a year, perhaps even longer,” Ash told Army Radio.

He explained that the assumption is that the vaccine shots issued so far will eventually lose effectiveness and that current inoculation may not offer protection against new strains of the virus, creating the need for a further round of doses.

“If we see that the vaccine is surprisingly good and remains effective for a long time” and without any virus variants that pose new threats, “it could take more time” until Israelis need to get another shot, Ash said.

There is already concern over how effective the vaccines are against a new strain of the coronavirus that first surfaced in India and that has been detected in a handful of recent patients in Israel.

Ash said health officials were still working to determine the situation and that answers should come in a few weeks.

A British mutation of the virus was blamed for a sudden spike in infections at the beginning of the year and contributed to the ordering of a third national lockdown that has mostly been eased in the past few months.

Ash also reiterated that vaccination of children below the age of 16 against COVID-19 will only begin after the US Food and Drug Administration gives its authorization for inoculating youngsters of that age.

He said that although COVID-19 symptoms seem lighter among children it will still be important for them to get vaccinated when the time comes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ash also confirmed to the station that Israel is trying to abort its order of AstraZeneca vaccines, saying “they aren’t needed” but not giving further explanation.

On Tuesday Netanyahu said Israel was readying for another coronavirus vaccination campaign in six months that will include children, in a follow-up to the country’s world-leading drive that has already completed inoculation of over half the population.

“Prepare your shoulders… and kids,” Netanyahu said during a press conference, predicting COVID-19 vaccines would be approved for use in children by then.

Netanyahu’s forecast appeared to based on remarks by Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, who said last week that he believes a third dose of the company’s vaccine will be necessary “somewhere between 6-12 months” after getting the first two doses, and annually after that. Pfizer has said the vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech remains 91% effective after 6 months.

The premier’s announcement came a day after Israel closed new supply deals with Pfizer and Moderna. The exact number of doses from each company remains secret, but Hebrew media reports said Israel agreed to pay for a total of 18 million shots from the two American companies, with the option to purchase millions more after those have been used.

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