Israeli government had announced on Thursday that it was offering booster doses to people over 50, two weeks after launching a campaign to give additional jabs to the elderly.
Israel was one of the first countries to launch a nationwide vaccination drive against coronavirus. It started the programme in mid-December last year by signing an agreement with Pfizer to procure millions of paid doses in exchange for sharing data on the jab's effectiveness. Vaccinations helped the bring down the infections, to the point that Israel lifted its public mask mandate and opened schools earlier this year.
However, the success was negated by the advent of Delta variant, which affected unvaccinated people as well as those whose immunity has waned six months after they got their initial shots.
"Starting this morning, people between the ages of 50 and 60 have been vaccinated at Clalit clinics across the country," Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer at Clalit Health Services and the chairman of Israel's national expert panel on Covid-19 told news agency AFP.
"We have hope this vaccination campaign will help reduce the impact of the ensuing surge of Covid-19 infections on the severe illness among the groups that are most vulnerable," he added.
In contrast to Israel's decision to administer booster shots, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a moratorium on booster shots. The global health agency has urged nations not to give additional doses at least until the end of September to mitigate the inequalities in global vaccine distribution.
However, Bennett said Israel is doing the world a "great service" by administering booster shots. More than 770,000 Israelis have received a third shot so far, as per the health ministry.
Bennett said extending booster shots to age group 50 and above was done under experts' guidance.
"Members of the team worked diligently, professionally and thoroughly, and reached the conclusion that the third inoculation for people aged 50 and over, and for medical teams, is effective and correct," Bennett said in Thursday's statement.
Israel Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, 56, said he will get his booster shot today.
Public health expert Nadav Davidovitch, who advises the government's pandemic response team, said rising cases were adding a sense of urgency to the campaign to vaccinate all Israelis. He emphasised that the nation going into another lockdown would be a failure.
Israel's health ministry said Friday it had recorded 6,083 new cases the previous day.
The US Food and Drug Administration, which Israel generally follows, has also approved additional shots but only for the most vulnerable people. The regulator’s move expands the use of Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech vaccines for organ transplant recipients and patients with other conditions like cancer that affect the body’s immunity. The decision doesn’t apply to other fully vaccinated individuals, USFDA has clarified.
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