What the world can learn from Israel’s COVID-19 vaccine booster rollout

Israel has been at the forefront of vaccination rollouts for adults and adolescents, pioneering a vaccine passport and pioneering the use of booster shots in recent months.

In late July, the country began giving boosters to those over the age of 60; from the end of August, booster The vaccine is available to anyone over the age of 16, five months after the second dose.

Now, a person is not considered fully vaccinated in Israel until they have received their third dose of the vaccine, once they become eligible.

Israeli health officials say more than three months later, the data is clear: booster shots helped bring down the fourth wave of the virus that spread through the country in August and September.

At its peak, that wave saw more than 8,000 new Covid-19 cases per day, and more than 500 people were hospitalized in critical condition at once.

The current seven-day average is running between 450 and 500 cases a day, and 129 people seriously hospitalized with the virus.

According to health ministry data, the data highlights the difference between people with a vaccine – and a booster – and those without: over several days in the past month, more than 75% of positive cases were without vaccination.

It’s even more apparent in people hospitalized with Covid-19: Israeli officials say in October the number of people over 60 in critical condition who had only two doses of the vaccine, those with three shots. compared to 5 times.

And although the overall caseload has declined since then, differences remain: On Sunday, there were four times as many people over the age of 60 in critical condition who had only two shots, compared with those who completed three doses. Was vaccinated. to the Ministry of Health.

lessons from israel

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cites such data as one reason he thinks it will soon be recommended that everyone get boosters once they are eligible.

“If you look strictly at the data from Israel, it’s pretty clear that the gap in immunity among the elderly is much, much deeper, but it goes across the board,” Fauci told NBC last week.

One lesson from Israel is that more and more countries are moving forward, especially as cases continue to rise to troubling levels in parts of Europe.

Germany recommends a third dose of vaccine for everyone over the age of 18 UK, boosters are available For everyone over 40 as of this week.
In France, demand for booster shots skyrocketed after President Emmanuel Macron announced That a third dose would be needed to re-validate the “pass sanitaire” or health pass, which is required on public transport and required to enter various public and private places.

Health experts say the rollout of booster shots in many Western countries highlights the disparity in vaccine deployment in other parts of the world.

In the UK, 88% of people over the age of 12 have received their first dose of vaccine; 80% have taken two doses, and 26% have already taken one booster shot, shows data from November 20.

In contrast, only 10% of people in African countries have received the first dose, according to Our World in Data; Only 7% of Africa is fully vaccinated, the data shows.

fear of the fifth wave

But not all the news from Israel is good: Although the number of cases has declined since September, the decline has slowed. And, even more so, the R-rate – the average number of people infected by each person with COVID-19 – is above 1, according to health ministry data – a worrying sign that the virus may be spreading again.

Health experts such as Professor Aran Segal of Israel’s Weizmann Institute say it is too early to tell whether the country is entering a fifth wave of the virus. But they point to the fact that about 1.5 million people who have had two doses of the vaccine haven’t gone back for their booster shots.

“There are more people whose vaccines have faded over time, when compared to the number of new vaccinations and boosters, which has led to a slow reduction in total [population’s] Immunity,” Sehgal had tweeted last week.

Now Israel is working to stop that potential fifth wave: Officials are encouraging non-vaccinated people to get their shots, and those who are eligible for booster doses to get them. . They are also getting the children vaccinated and taking preventive measures.

According to Israeli health officials, many of Israel’s new infections are in children between the ages of five and 11. The campaign to vaccinate that age group started on Monday.

Europe is learning an important lesson - vaccines work, but they alone won't stop Covid anymore

The Chairman of Israel’s COVID-19 National Expert Advisory Panel, Dr. “About 50% of our daily infections are occurring in the under 11 age group,” Ran Balisar told CNN last Friday. “We think this vaccination campaign could really turn the tide and maybe get us back on a good upswing. [in vaccinations], as we hope we will.”

But even with a highly vaccinated population, health experts say it is important that anti-Covid measures remain in place, especially during winter, as activities move indoors.

Nachman Ash, director general of Israel’s Ministry of Public Health, told Israel’s Channel 13 that the reason for the rise in cases is that people are not following rules like wearing masks.

“Enforcement isn’t enough,” Ash said. “And I see that as time goes on the public is relaxing and the infection rate is going down, so people are less careful. So yes, we have to increase enforcement.”

Baliser warned that ignoring the weakened immunity of those taking two doses of the vaccine “could, in fact, put people at risk with false reassurances.”

“There is no single magic bullet that would be sufficient to assure growth prevention, especially in the winter time,” Baliser said. “It is a combination of measures: indoor masks, population behavior, indoor event restrictions and green certificates, and an effective booster campaign.

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