Israeli health experts agree to give third COVID jab to the elderly

The Health Ministry’s coronavirus vaccination committee voted Wednesday night to administer a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine to elderly people who are more susceptible to developing serious disease.

An absolute majority of the committee members who attended the meeting, which lasted from 9 p.m. to midnight, said they believed this was the right decision for Israel’s adult population, despite a third jab still not being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett implied that the country was heading in this direction earlier in the week when he said during a visit to a senior living facility that “We’re on top of it, believe me… We’re very close. The less we talk about it, the greater chance it’ll happen. I’m on it.”

The committee was divided regarding at which age people should get the extra shot, with opinions ranging from people as young as 60 to giving it only to those 70 and older. As such, the decision to move forward has been handed to Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash, who will make a determination in the coming days.

The move comes a day after Pfizer told its investors in a presentation that their research shows a third dose of the vaccine increased antibodies in those who received it by five to 11 times. The company said it hopes to apply for emergency use approval of the extra shot sometimes in August.

The Delta variant has been quickly spreading across Israel. While the majority of new cases are younger people, among them unvaccinated children, the country is starting to see more and more elderly who were vaccinated five and six months ago get infected. Preliminary research by the Health Ministry showed that the Pfizer vaccine was only 16% effective against the Delta variant in people vaccinated so long ago.

Moreover, it is estimated that for people 60 and older, the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness has dropped from 97% to 81%.

“Eighty-one percent is still effective, but the gap is dramatic,” tweeted Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science on Thursday morning. “Because, if previously the chance of a vaccinated person aged 60+ getting seriously ill was 3%, now it is 19%, which means six times more.”

Following the decision, Prof. Nimrod Maimon, head of the Magen Avot V’Imahot (Parents Shield) program, met with the elderly home union (ABA) Thursday morning and instructed that the third jab be implemented immediately in all the assisted living residences. Some 2,165 new coronavirus cases were detected in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry reported Thursday, accounting for the third day of a steep rise in cases and bringing the weekly average to approximately 1,500 positive tests a day. As of Thursday morning, 159 of the current COVID patients in Israel are in serious condition, with 26 intubated.