Israel affords a 3rd Pfizer shot amid peak falls

A health care worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at Clalit Health Services in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli city of Bnei Brak on January 6, 2021.

JACK GUEZ | AFP | Getty Images

Israel will allow adults with severe pre-existing conditions to receive a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine against Covid-19, making it the first country in the world to do so.

The Israeli government’s decision comes as coronavirus infections are on the rise due to the spread of the Delta variant, but it also contradicts a recent statement by the U.S. top health authorities to their own citizens that a booster is actually not required.

The Israeli Ministry of Health said this week that the booster vaccination will be offered to adults who are considered at risk, specifically mentioning people with severe immunodeficiency or who have recently had an organ transplant.

It was not immediately clear whether the booster shot would also be made available to Palestinians living in Israeli-occupied territories.

The jury remains open

Covid cases in Israel surged to more than 400 a day in early July after staying in the single digits for most of June – despite praising the country for running one of the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world. More than 5 million of the 9 million residents have been fully vaccinated against the disease.

But after fully reopening its economy in the spring, Israel reintroduced some restrictions, including the requirement to wear masks indoors and on public transport.

Despite the surge in case numbers, the Israeli Ministry of Health said in the first week of July that only 47 of the 4,000 registered active cases in the country were classified as serious.

In the meantime, the debate continues over whether a third dose of a vaccine is needed and will go a long way in protecting people from the virus. Health officials in the United States believe this has not yet been the case.

“Americans who have been fully vaccinated currently do not need a booster vaccination,” said the US Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control in a joint statement on July 8.

“We will continue to review all new data as it becomes available and will keep the public informed. We are prepared for booster doses when and when science shows it is needed.”

In a press release released on the same day, Pfizer and BioNTech said a third dose of their vaccine “has the potential to provide the highest level of protection against all currently known variants, including Delta.”

The American and German companies are currently developing a new version of their shot “that targets the full spike protein of the Delta variant,” the statement said.

“A dangerous trend”

Pfizer has announced that it will seek regulatory approval for its booster vaccines, while some countries where Chinese-made vaccines were widely used are now offering a Pfizer booster amid doubts about the effectiveness of Chinese vaccines. Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are among those countries that are now offering a Pfizer booster for people who have received two doses of China’s Sinopharm, although the jury remained open as to whether the practice is ultimately safe.

On Monday, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned against mixing vaccines.

“It’s a bit of a dangerous trend here … we are in a data-free, evidence-free zone when it comes to mix and match (of vaccines),” she said during a press conference.

“There is limited data on mix-and-match, there are studies going on, we’ll have to wait for that, maybe it’s a very good approach, but at the moment we only have data on AstraZeneca, followed by Pfizer. It’s going to be chaotic in the countries when citizens begin to decide when and who to take the third and fourth doses. “

Criticism of vaccine deliveries to Palestinians

The ruling Palestinian Authority of the West Bank canceled a vaccine swap deal with Israel in June that would have given it 1 million doses of an aging supply of Pfizer vaccines from Israel that needed to be used up, and Israel a similar number in return would give from Pfizer doses that the company wanted to receive later in the year.

But the stock’s expiration date was in June – the same month it was supposed to be delivered to Israel – and the Palestinians rejected it, saying they were first told that the shooting would expire in July and August. Israel denies this, saying that they were aware of the expiration dates.

Palestinian students wearing face masks stand in line to enter their school after face-to-face lessons, which were interrupted as part of the novel coronavirus measures (Covid-19), resumed for elementary and secondary school students in the Gaza Strip today on January 13, 2021.

Ali Jadallah | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Israel sent 5,000 doses of vaccine to Palestinian health workers in the West Bank in January, which human rights defenders and Palestinians believe is insufficient and violates Israel’s duty of care as an occupying state.

The Israel Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a CNBC request for comment.

Just over 30% of eligible Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have received at least one dose of vaccine, Palestinian officials say, largely thanks to the COVAX initiative to exchange vaccines and donations from different countries.

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