Israel has today become the first country in the world to offer a third Covid-19 booster vaccine on a large scale. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that Israel will vaccinate all people over the age of 60 again, with the new Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, and his wife, the first people to receive their third shot on Friday morning.
Legitimate concerns led to the decision: the number of new Covid cases in Israel has been rapidly increasing, including among the vaccinated – although to a much lesser degree compared with those who have not been vaccinated. There were 2,143 confirmed cases on Thursday, with 286 hospitalisations. Israeli experts who are advising the Health Ministry have said that the vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing serious illness among the over-60s vaccinated in January has dropped from 97 to 81 per cent. Pfizer also announced in April that a third vaccination might be required – although this has so far been rejected by the FDA, the World Health Organisation, and neither the US nor the EU have approved a third vaccination roll-out.
Since mid-July, Israel has been giving booster Pfizer jabs to thousands of immunosuppressed patients. The early evidence shows that the third vaccine is safe – but there is not yet enough evidence regarding its effectiveness and the longevity of its impact. With little evidence of its efficiency, it may be that the decision to offer it is based in part on political considerations. The new Israeli government is made up of a shaky coalition of parties that have little in common and it is in a constant struggle to maintain its integrity and avoid internal and external threats that may destabilise it.