Israeli health authorities began administering coronavirus booster shots on Friday to people over 60 who have already received both doses of a vaccine, in an attempt to combat a recent surge in case numbers.
The decision was announced on Thursday by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, making Israel the first country to offer a third dose of a western vaccine to its citizens on a wide scale.
″Israel is a pioneer in going ahead with the third dose for older people of the age of 60 and above,″ Mr Bennet said during Friday’s launch.
The decision comes after an increase in infections caused by the Delta variant, and indications that the vaccine’s efficacy drops over time.
Mr Bennett said that a team of expert advisers had overwhelmingly agreed that the booster campaign was necessary. He said that this decision was made after “considerable research and analysis” and that its information would be shared around the world.
″The only way we can defeat Covid is together. Together means sharing information. Together means sharing methods, technologies, insights, and actionable steps,″ Mr Bennet said on Friday.
More than 57 per cent of the country’s 9.3 million citizens have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and more than 80 per cent of the population over 40 is vaccinated.
Neither the US nor the EU has approved coronavirus booster shots, and the World Health Organisation said this month that there is not enough evidence to show that a third dose is needed.
Most studies – and real-world data from Britain and the US – so far show that the Pfizer vaccine is powerfully protective against serious illness.
On Wednesday, Pfizer released data from its long-running 44,000-person study showing that while protection against any symptomatic infection declined slightly six months after immunisation, protection against severe Covid-19 was still at nearly 97 per cent.
This month, Israel’s Health Ministry announced that protection against severe disease was about 93 per cent.
Israel has carried out one of the world’s quickest and most successful vaccination campaigns. They reached a deal with pharmaceutical company Pfizer to buy enough vaccines for its population in exchange for sharing its data with the drug manufacturer.
The vaccination programme allowed Israel to reopen its economy before other countries. The Israeli government had planned to reopen the country to vaccinated tourists in July but has pushed the date back after concerns over the increase in case numbers.