Israel will now offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to an expanded group of people, as it works to control a wave of the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday that the country would provide vaccines to people over 60 and medical workers, Reuters reported. This is in addition to the second booster shot it approved last week for immunocompromised individuals and elderly people living in care homes.
“Israel will once again be pioneering the global vaccination effort,” Bennett said during a televised news conference.
The prime minister indicated that Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash would approve the expanded booster shot campaign.
Bennett described the second booster as an effort to prevent serious illness among the elderly.
“We now have a new layer of defense,” Bennett said.
About 60% of Israel’s 9.4 million people are fully vaccinated with either their recent second dose or the booster dose, mostly with the Pfizer vaccine. However, even with the fourth dose possible for some, hundreds of thousands who are eligible to get their third dose have not done so.
Meanwhile the Omicron variant has caused a wave of infections worldwide, with an average of 1 million cases daily between Dec. 24 and Dec. 30, according to Reuters data. Deaths are not rising as dramatically.
Bennett estimated that the case numbers in Israel would also rise to record highs, with up to 50,000 people infected daily there soon. The country may tighten eligibility for testing to address the long lines at testing stations.
Ash said Omicron could push Israel to herd immunity, a point at which there is population-level virus protection. This is achieved when enough people have antibodies obtained either by vaccination, infection or both.
“The [infection] numbers will have to be very high in order to reach herd immunity,” Ash said earlier, Reuters reported. “This is possible but we don’t want to reach it by means of infections, we want it to happen as a result of many people vaccinating.”
Herd immunity may not happen because the past two years have shown that some people infected with COVID-19 can go on to have later reinfections, said Salman Zarka, head of Israel’s health ministry’s coronavirus task force.
Daily infections have quadrupled there during the past 10 days, Reuters reported, but daily severe cases have risen at a slower rate, from about 80 to 100.
There’s more on booster shots at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.