Israel became the first country to approve a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine that will be administered to the most vulnerable population.
The approval, on Thursday, comes a week after experts recommended this second booster dose before the advance of omicron, the most contagious variant of the pathogen till the date.
“Today I approved administering the fourth dose of the vaccine to immunosuppressed people,” said the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Health, Nachman Ash.
“I did it in light of the studies showing the benefit of the vaccine, including the fourth dose, in this population, and also in light of the fear that they will be more vulnerable in this wave of omicron,” he added.
Israeli authorities reported more than 4,000 new cases of coronavirus Thursday, the highest number since September.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Israel was in the middle of “the fifth wave,” with the majority of cases probably linked to the omicron variant.
Double weapon against omicron
Naftali Bennett, Prime Minister of Israel, said that his country would be a pioneer in the administration of this fourth dose, as it already was when offering the third to the general public.
“Israel will lead the way in administering a fourth vaccine to the Israeli people,” Bennett said.
About 4.2 million out of a total of 9.4 million people in Israel have already received all three doses.
This same Thursday, this country also received a shipment of paxlovid pills, the anticovid pills from the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
Ran Balicer, chairman of Israel’s national panel of experts on COVID-19, said that Pfizer’s drugs could “dramatically reduce the risk of serious illness, potentially reducing the overall hospital burden as well.”
The US Food and Drug Administration last week authorized Pfizer’s paxlovid pill for high-risk people 12 years of age and older.
Clinical trials have shown that the treatment reduces covid hospitalizations and deaths by 88% among at-risk patients. Oral treatments block the virus’s ability to replicate and should resist variants, experts say.
Until now, the main treatments against the coronavirus have been antivirals that are administered intravenously.
The European Union regulator has also allowed its member states to use the Pfizer pill before its formal approval as an emergency measure.
The approval of the fourth dose in Israel comes after a clinical trial launched last Monday by the Sheba Medical Center, where 150 healthcare personnel were injected to test the benefits of a national campaign.
The country also announced new health regulations, such as the use of masks in gatherings of more than 50 people outdoors.
Israeli health authorities have avoided the broad patterns of social distancing and shutdowns seen by the world in the early days of the pandemic. The government has also not vetoed mass gatherings for New Year’s Eve.
However, Horowitz, the Minister of Health, warned this Thursday that “each person must assume personal responsibility.”
“We will not place an inspector and we will not send a police officer to each person,” he added.
In the past week, Chile announced that it would offer a fourth dose to people at risk starting in February. UK and Germany they also consider this measure.