People over 60 and medical staff in Israel will be offered a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (AP)

Israel offers elderly, medics fourth shot

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says Israel will offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to people over 60 and medical staff as it faces a surge in Omicron variant infections.

Israel last week approved a fourth dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, a second booster, for people who are immune-compromised and the elderly living in care homes.

“We now have a new layer of defence,” Bennett said in a televised news conference on Sunday, adding that Israel’s top government medical official, whose approval is needed to expand the booster campaign, had signed off on the latest move.

“Israel will once again be pioneering the global vaccination effort,” Bennett said.

Earlier, the Health Ministry’s Director-General Nachman Ash said Israel could reach herd immunity as Omicron infections mounted and Merck & Co’s molnupiravir anti-viral pill was approved for use in COVID-19 patients over 18.

Herd immunity is the point at which a population is protected from a virus, either through vaccination or by people having developed antibodies by contracting the disease.

The highly transmissible Omicron variant has caused a wave of coronavirus cases, with worldwide infections hitting a record high.

There have been an average of just over one million cases detected each day between December 24 and 30, Reuters data showed.

Deaths, however, have not risen to the same degree, raising hopes that the new variant is less lethal, a view Bennett also echoed in describing the second booster as largely a bid to prevent serious illness among the elderly.

Read the article by Maayan Lubell (Reuters) in The West Australian.