by Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will begin offering a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 to over 60s, the first country in the world to do so in an attempt to slow the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, launching the campaign, said Israeli President Isaac Herzog will be the first to receive the booster shot on Friday.
Israel was a leader in worldwide vaccination. Many seniors received their doses in December, January and February because they were considered the most vulnerable sector of the population.
But since the emergence of the Delta variant, the Ministry of Health has twice reported a drop in the vaccine’s effectiveness against infections and a small decrease in protection from serious diseases.
The booster campaign, with doses administered by health organizations, will effectively turn Israel into a trial for the third dose, before approval by the regulatory agency of the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA).
“The findings show that there is a drop in the body’s immunity over time. The purpose of the booster dose is to increase it again and thus significantly reduce the chances of infection and serious illness,” Bennett said at a news conference.
Pfizer said on Wednesday that it believes people need an additional dose to maintain high protection against the coronavirus. The company said it would file an emergency permit in the US to boost the doses from August.
An Israeli panel of vaccination experts, which advises the Ministry of Health, overwhelmingly approved the booster campaign on Wednesday night, Bennett said. People over the age of 60 who received the second dose of Pfizer’s vaccine at least five months ago will be eligible.
About 57% of Israel’s population of 9.3 million people has been vaccinated. Approximately 160 people are hospitalized with severe symptoms and new daily infections have risen to more than 2,000, after only a few cases a day months ago.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Rami Ayyub)
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