Israel approves 4th dose of vaccine for most vulnerable

TEL AVIV (AP) – Israel has approved a fourth dose of vaccine for those most vulnerable to COVID-19, an official said on Thursday, becoming one of the first countries to do so as it braces for a wave of infections fueled by the omicron variant.

Nachman Ash, director general of the Department of Health, announced the decision at a press conference, saying the doses would initially be given to people with weakened immune systems.

“We will continue to monitor the data on a daily basis and see if we need to extend this recommendation to a larger part of the population,” he said.

Sheba Medical Center later announced it would start giving the fourth dose to heart transplant patients early on Friday. Israel started trials of the fourth dose at the center earlier this week, administering it to some 150 medical staff who received a booster in August.

Israel was among the first countries to roll out Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine a year ago and began rolling out boosters last summer. But he has always seen a wave of infections blamed on the delta variant, and officials have warned of another caused by the rapidly spreading omicron.

About two-thirds of Israel’s population of nearly 9.5 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and some 4.2 million Israelis have received all three doses, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health. Health.

“Israel will lead the way in administering a fourth vaccine (dose) to the Israeli people,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement. “Israel’s strategy to defeat the omicron is clear: the bigger the wave, the greater the protection we will need to overcome it. “

Earlier Thursday, Israel received its first shipment of pills that treat the worst effects of the virus.

It is one of the first countries to receive Pfizer’s Paxlovid, a pill that can be taken at home to ward off the most severe symptoms of the coronavirus. All previously authorized medications require an intravenous or injection.

Israeli media have reported that the first shipment consists of 20,000 doses, and more are expected as Pfizer ramps up production.

Israel currently has more than 22,000 active patients, including more than 90 critically ill. At least 8,243 people have died from COVID-19 in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

Chile last week announced it would start offering a fourth dose in February. Chile said nearly 86% of its population was fully vaccinated, making it the country with the highest level of coronavirus vaccination in Latin America.

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Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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