The Slatest

Israel Becomes First Country to Approve Fourth Vaccine Dose for Most Vulnerable

A syringe going into a vial of vaccine held in a person's hand
A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Israel on Monday. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Israel became the first country on Thursday to approve a second booster shot for those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 in an effort to stem the spread of the highly infectious omicron variant. Israel is limiting the fourth vaccine dose to immunocompromised people, such as those who are undergoing cancer treatment and organ transplant recipients. For now, the country, which has been at the forefront of global vaccination campaigns against COVID-19, is holding off on a decision on whether to extend the fourth dose to other at-risk groups. “Israel’s strategy for overcoming omicron is clear: The greater the wave, the greater the protection we will need to overcome it,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

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The move to slowly start rolling out the second booster shot comes shortly after an advisory panel of experts recommended the government approve the additional vaccine dose for everyone who has a weakened immune system, those aged 60 and over, and health workers. The panel acknowledged there was still little data to back the use of a fourth vaccine dose but insisted the benefits outweighed the potential risks. But some experts are concerned that an additional booster shot given too soon could hamper the body’s ability to fight off the coronavirus.

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Given the uncertainty over the strategy, officials said it was still too early to extend the additional booster to such large chunks of the population. “In light of the existing gaps in knowledge in the world about the effectiveness of a fourth dose, in the present situation, we are acting cautiously and responsibly,” Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash said. Lots of governments are likely to be looking at how the process works in Israel, considering it was the first country to roll out booster shots on a massive scale, a strategy that has now been picked up around the world. A hospital in Israel gave fourth shots to a group of health workers on Monday in what it described as the first major study on the effects of an additional booster.

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