Israel’s prime minister on Thursday announced that the country would offer a coronavirus booster to people over 60 who have already been vaccinated.
The announcement by Naftali Bennett makes Israel the first country to offer a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine to its citizens on a wide scale.
The decision came at a time of rising infections and concerns that the vaccine’s efficacy dwindles over time.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
JERUSALEM (AP) – A leading Israeli health provider on Thursday said it would soon begin offering a third, booster COVID-19 shot to patients over the age of 60 who have already been vaccinated against the coronavirus.
This would make Israel the first country with Western vaccines to offer its vaccinated citizens a third dose. Previously, boosters were used in some countries with the Chinese and Russian vaccines.
Maccabi, one of Israel’s four publicly funded health maintenance organizations, said its members could already register and the vaccinations would start on Sunday.
The announcement came shortly ahead of a nationally televised news conference by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is expected to unveil a nationwide booster shot program.
Neither the United State nor the European Union have officially recommended coronavirus booster shots. It’s not yet proven if a third dose helps and, if so, who needs one and when. The first large study of the strategy is beginning in thousands of patients in Norway.
Early this year, Israel carried out one of the world’s most aggressive and successful vaccination campaigns. Over 57% of the country’s 9.3 million citizens have received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and over 80% of the population over 40 is vaccinated.
The vaccination program allowed Israel to reopen its economy ahead of other countries. But there are signs that the vaccine’s efficacy wears off over time, and Israel has seen a spike in cases of the new delta variant, even among people who are vaccinated.
People over the age of 60 who were vaccinated more than five months ago will be eligible for the booster, Maccabi said.