Israel started giving third doses of the coronavirus vaccine to its most vulnerable residents this week amid a surge in infections tied to the Delta variant.
“Even though I was very scared, I came, and I took the vaccine, and now I feel much better,” said Meirav Karasik, 47, moments after receiving her third dose.
Four years after a heart transplant, she became one of the first patients in Israel to receive the booster shot at Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv.
The hospital gained approval to deliver booster shots from the Israeli Health Ministry on Monday and hours later, a corridor was full of patients in blue masks waiting for their jab.
“It’s very dangerous for people like us, the coronavirus, and now it’s a little bit less dangerous,” said Mrs Karasik, who works for a medical equipment firm and wrote a book about her heart transplant.
Israel is offering the third shot to adults who are especially vulnerable, such as organ transplant and cancer patients, more than six months after its nationwide vaccination drive was launched.
The decision follows a rise in coronavirus infections in Israel, home to nine million people, from an average of 12 daily cases one month ago to 464 this week.
After 11 days without any deaths, according to health ministry data, there were seven Covid-related deaths over the past week. Some of those who dies had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
Prof Yael Peled, medical director of Sheba’s heart transplant unit, said the aim of the booster shot was to “return to normal life and protect our patients”.
“It has been approved by our Ministry of Health, after very careful looking at the available data and assessing the risk versus the benefit of the third dose,” Prof Peled told The National.
Pfizer said last week it would soon publish data from a trial of the third dose and seek approval from regulators in the US, Europe and elsewhere to administer the booster shots.
There are no plans to offer the booster shot to the wider population, of whom more than 56 per cent have received two doses.
Israel hopes its high vaccination rate and targeted third dose will help curb the number of serious infections and prevent a fourth lockdown.
In neighbouring Gaza and the occupied West Bank, meanwhile, Palestinian Authority figures show only 7.5 per cent of Palestinians have received two doses.
Of more than three million Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel has vaccinated about 100,000 who hold Israeli work permits.
The policy of administering third doses while much of the world lags behind in vaccine distribution has been criticised by the World Health Organisation’s director general.
“Some countries and regions are actually ordering millions of booster doses before other countries have had supplies to vaccinate their health workers and most vulnerable,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a Monday briefing.
“I ask you, who would put firefighters on the front line without protection?” he asked. “We're making conscious choices right now not to protect those most in need, our own firefighters.”