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Israel offers Covid vaccine booster shots to at-risk adults

Israel offers Covid vaccine booster shots to at-risk adults

Israel said on Sunday that it would begin to offer a booster shot of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to adults with weak immune systems, but that it was still weighing up whether they should be given to the general public.

The rapid spread of the Delta variant has fuelled a rise in the number of new infections from single digits a month ago to around 450 a day, and the country has moved to fast-track its next Pfizer shipment.

The health minister, Nitzan Horowitz, said that adults with impaired immune systems who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine could get an immediate booster shot, with a decision pending on wider distribution.

Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, the main suppliers in a swift Israeli vaccination rollout that began in December, said on Thursday they will ask US and European regulators within weeks to authorise booster shots.

The two companies cited an increased risk of infection after six months in seeking permission for a third shot. Drawing criticism from some scientists and officials, the companies did not share the data showing that risk, but said it would soon be made public.

“We are examining this issue and we still do not have a final answer,” Horowitz said about a booster for the general population in Israel.

“In any case we are administering as of now a third shot to people suffering from immunodeficiency. These are for instance people who have undergone organ transplants or suffer from a medical condition which causes a drop in immunity.”

About half of the 46 patients currently in a severe condition in Israeli hospitals have been vaccinated, according to health ministry data. Israel’s coronavirus pandemic response coordinator, Nachman Ash, said on Wednesday that the overwhelming majority of them were from high-risk groups, over the age of 60 and had prior health problems.

Horowitz also said the health ministry would plug a Pfizer supply gap for ongoing two-dose inoculations of the general adult population by using Moderna vaccines already in stock.

Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said in broadcast remarks to his cabinet on Sunday that he had agreed with Pfizer to bring forward the next delivery of doses to 1 August. The shipment had been widely expected to arrive in September.

Israel hopes earlier deliveries will enable more youngsters to be vaccinated before the start of the school year in September. Under health ministry regulations, Israeli youths can receive Pfizer shots but not yet those produced by Moderna.

Israel has almost exclusively administered Pfizer shots to around 60% of its 9.3 million population. A batch of 700,000 doses due to expire at the end of July was sent to South Korea, as a recent slowdown in the pace of vaccinations would likely have meant them going to waste.

Under the deal, Seoul will return the same number of shots, already on order from Pfizer, in September and October.

“We have Moderna vaccines and adults who want to vaccinate can do so from this morning, or maybe tomorrow, with the Moderna vaccines,” Horowitz said.


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