Israel has expanded its COVID booster vaccination campaign to all Israelis over age 12, becoming the first country in the world to offer the third shot widely. Israeli officials said vaccine efficacy wanes sharply after six months and the booster shot is proven to be effective.
Every Israeli over age 12 who received their second dose of the vaccine at least five months ago is now eligible for a third booster shot. Israel began giving the booster shots to anyone over 60 earlier this month and has now expanded the campaign, making it the first country in the world to do so.
Professor Cyril Cohen, a member of the advisory committee for clinical trials at the Israeli Ministry of Health, told Israel Radio he is convinced the booster is necessary.
"We have data that shows there is a real reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing infections. I’m not talking about severe cases of infections, starting around 5 – 6 months after the vaccination and therefore the Israeli government has decided to allow whoever wants to get a third dose," he said.
Israel’s government also announced that anyone who has received a third vaccine, or who received their second vaccine within the past six months, will be exempt from quarantine after international travel.
The move excludes a handful of so-called red countries where COVID-19 rates are high including Brazil, Mexico, Spain, and Turkey.
The announcement sparked a wave of ticket purchases as many Israelis held off traveling because of a weeklong quarantine upon return.
The announcement comes as COVID rates in Israel remain high, although beginning to decline.
Nachman Ash, the director general of Israel’s Health Ministry, said that Israel is applying the brakes to the fourth wave of COVID, and he is cautiously optimistic that the rates will start to go down. There are currently more than 700 cases of patients who are seriously ill in Israeli hospitals, and almost 7,000 have died since the beginning of the pandemic. Almost two million Israelis, out of a total population of nine million, the official said, have already received the third dose.
At the same time, there are several upcoming events that could cause a spike in the number of cases. Schools open on Wednesday, and parents are supposed to test their children at home and report the results. But there is concern that parents may not do the tests or do them improperly.
In addition, next week is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and large family gatherings are expected.