ISRAEL will offer a fourth Covid vaccine dose to over 60s to bolster their protection even more amid the spread of Omicron.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the elderly and medics will be eligible for the top-up, following the “wonderful” recommendation of an expert panel.
It would make Israel the first country in the world to offer a fourth vaccine, while some nations carry out booster third-dose campaigns.
The UK is racing to get jabs in the arms of all adults while the Omicron variant ferociously spreads.
More than two thirds of over 18s in England who are eligible have now received their top up protection.
In the UK, almost 30 million booster doses have been given with the Sun’s Jabs Army volunteers helping the NHS.
Immunity wanes in the months following the second dose, and has proven to be lower against Omicron.
But a third shot pushes protection against infection back up to 75 per cent, and hospitalisation to 80 per cent, estimates say.
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Currently there is no data to show how fast a booster shots immunity wanes, or how a fourth dose will ramp it up again, especially against Omicron.
Research is being carried out by the Sheba Medical Centre in Ramat Gan, Israel, involving around 200 volunteers.
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Experts have already said that vaccine doses every year, or possibly every six months, will likely be needed moving forward with Covid.
Ben Osborn, country manager for Pfizer in the UK, said people are likely to need Covid-19 booster shots “for a number of years to come".
NHS England’s national medical director has said it is “too early” to say how frequently jabs will be needed in the future, but stressed that the booster programme is “even more critical” in the face of the Omicron variant.
Professor Stephen Powis told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “The key message for everybody: The vaccines do work, they’re very effective and the way to make them even more effective is to get that booster dose.”
ONE STEP AHEAD
President Bennett said on Twitter that “the world will follow in our footsteps” following the announcement of fourth shots.
"I gave an order to prepare immediately for a fourth vaccination," he said.
Bennett had called the country's Pandemic Expert Committee's recommendation to administer a fourth jab "wonderful news".
"(It) will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world," he said.
"The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well," he said in remarks relayed by his office.
A statement from the health ministry noted that immunodeficient people will also be eligible for the fourth shot.
Israelis will become eligible once four months have passed from their third dose.
More than 4.1 million Israelis have received three doses of a coronavirus vaccine in the country of roughly 9.3 million people.
But jab rates remain low among teens and young children. Fewer than one per cent of children aged five to 11 have received a single coronavirus jab.
The country was the first in the world to start administering boosters back in August.
Immunity from the second Covid vaccine dose is shown to start dipping from three months.
England’s deputy chief medical officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, believes that protection from a booster lasts a little better than after only two doses.
However, the Omicron variant is known to evade antibodies produced by jabs, instilling fear into officials that across the population, immunity levels will not be high enough to prevent hospitalisations.
Now, Israel is faced with the new Omicron variant, with 1,148 confirmed or "highly likely" Omicron cases in the country, according to the health ministry.
More than half the cases were among vaccinated people.
Bennett said: “The bad news is that the Omicron in Israel is advancing exactly according to our expectations and predictions. We’re doubling new cases.”
A man in his 60s with “many severe” underlying health conditions was reported to have been the first Omicron death in Israel.
However, the health ministry said on Wednesday that he actually had the Delta variant, the BBC reported.
The Omicron cases were part of an upward trend of coronavirus infections. On Monday 1,306 cases were recorded, a level not seen since October.
Israel blocked nearly all foreign visitors last month after Omicron was detected in South Africa.
More than 50 countries have been declared off-limits, including the UK, US, Spain, UAE, most African nations and France.
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