Coronavirus: Israel is the first country to decide on a fourth Covid vaccination – but it is highly controversial

The country is a kind of leading indicator of the corona pandemic, especially when it comes to vaccination, because the first Covid vaccinations began here earlier in 2020 than in other countries. Israel became the first country in the world to start booster vaccinations in July of this year. With the fourth vaccination, Premier Bennet wants to stop a new wave of infections with the Omikron variant. Re-vaccination, however, is controversial.

Bennett had brought up the fourth dose weeks ago. But experts from the Ministry of Health had previously advised against it. On Tuesday evening, the government decided on the fourth vaccination at a cabinet meeting. The results of a study at the Sheba Medical Center are not expected for around two weeks.

The study, which looks at the effects on antibody levels, will involve 200 volunteers who have been vaccinated a fourth time. According to the hospital, this is the world’s first study of its kind, which is being carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Health.

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Decision despite lack of data due to concerns about the Omikron wave

Galia Rahav, who heads the Infectious Diseases Department at Sheba Medical Center and is a member of the government’s expert panel, described the recommendation for the additional booster vaccination in a radio interview as “not easy”. There is still too little data to show whether the protection from the third vaccination is decreasing or whether there are side effects.

But at the same time there are “frightening numbers” in the world, said Rahav, referring to the rapidly expanding omicron variant. If you wait for the data, the next wave of infections cannot be prevented. That is why the majority of the panel of experts was in favor of a fourth vaccination. The Department of Public Health in the Department of Health, Sharon Alroy-Preis, among other things, had voiced her concerns.

The experts of the advisory “Pandemic Response Team” were under political pressure. Bennett had made it clear that he was “impatiently” waiting for the fourth dose to be approved. Otherwise the fifth wave would be unstoppable, he warned. Bennett said Israel was the first country in the world to provide a third syringe and will now lead the fourth. The cabinet decision on the fourth vaccination is not yet binding for anyone.

Other studies at Sheba Hospital on the Omikron variant rely primarily on data from abroad, because there are only a few hundred Omikron patients in Israel. So far, these have had a mild disease course. Since Israel had massively restricted or even banned entry after the first information from South Africa about the new virus, time was saved, said Bennett at a press conference.

The enthusiasm for vaccinations has clearly waned in Israel

But the speed with which Bennett pushed the fourth dose through the cabinet unsettled many citizens. It is also criticized that the fourth dose was decided before the rate of double and triple vaccinations was increased. That is more urgent, say experts.

32 percent of all people over five years of age in Israel are without vaccination protection. Another ten percent have been vaccinated twice, but have so far not taken the third shot. Only 58 percent of Israelis have received three cans so far. In the country that was once considered the world champion in vaccination, enthusiasm for vaccinations has visibly waned. Bennett is also not very popular, so that his calls to the non-vaccinated cause little response.

Children between the ages of five and eleven have also been vaccinated since mid-November. So far, only ten percent have accepted the offer. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, explains the low vaccination rate among children, among other things with the “numerous fake news” that are circulating and with the fear of many parents of “any long-term consequences “, Which is” of course not true “.

If Israel starts vaccinating students in school, the vaccination rate will increase, Davidovitch said. So far, Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton has been reluctant to implement Bennett’s policy that allows vaccinations in schools.

More: “It’s a patriotic duty” – as Joe Biden mobilized against the Omikron wave in the USA.

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