Israel on Friday became the first country worldwie to offer a third Covid-19 vaccine dose to those over the age of 50.
Medical staff and those with underlying illnesses, as well as prisoners and wardens, are also eligible for the booster.
More than 775,000 Israelis aged over 60 have already received the booster after Israel last month decided that age group would be eligible for a third jab in a move that was quickly followed by a number of other countries.
Minister for health Nitzan Horowitz was one of the first over-50s to receive the third dose on Friday, urging others to follow his example.
“I really hope that as many people as possible my age, 50 and older, will be vaccinated with the third dose,” he said. “This is the most effective tool we have to stop the Delta variant. We are in a very big outbreak and this is a step that everybody can take.”
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.
The health ministry’s expert panel took the decision to extend the booster to the over-50s after data collected from Israelis who have received the third shot showed that protection against Covid-19 doubled afterwards.
Data also showed that recently vaccinated 12- to 15-year-olds enjoyed greater protection from the highly transmissible Delta variant than adults who had been fully dosed.
No side effects
Prof Cyrille Cohen from Bar Ilan university, and a member of the advisory board on coronavirus clinical tests, said the booster shot makes sense.
“There is definitely supporting evidence that a third dose helps. When we see a big drop in antibodies in people who were vaccinated in January, it makes scientific sense to do this. And the research shows that there are no side effects beyond those already known.”
The decision to expand the booster drive came on Thursday night when it was reported that severe cases of the virus have risen by 70 per cent in just one week. Israel’s infection rate climbed to 5.02 per cent Friday and the number of seriously ill in hospitals is again approaching the 500 mark. More than half of Thursday’s confirmed cases, 53 per cent, were identified in individuals who had been vaccinated for the disease,
Despite the country’s high rate of vaccination and the early drive for the first and second shots, more than a million Israelis have not received a jab.
The government says it will do everything possible to avoid a fourth lockdown, advocating a policy of “living with the vaccine”. However, health officials warn that a lockdown may be inevitable if infection rates continue to rise.