JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Health Ministry experts recommended on Thursday dropping from 60 to 50 the minimum age of eligibility for a COVID-19 vaccine booster, hoping to curb a rise in Delta variant infections.
The advisory panel’s move, which followed a call by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to expand Israel’s booster campaign, still has to be approved by the Health Ministry’s director.
But at least two major health providers have already said they would begin on Friday to schedule appointments for people in the 50-59 age group to get a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
After a successful vaccination campaign launched in late 2020 in which around 60% of the population have received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, new daily cases dropped from more than 10,000 in January to single digits in June.
But with the spread of the Delta variant across the globe, new infections jumped in Israel, reaching 5,946 on Monday, and serious illnesses have been increasing as well.
Israelis aged 60 and up began receiving the booster two weeks ago, effectively turning Israel into a testing ground before any third-dose approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
More than 700,000 seniors in Israel have received their third shot.
“I commend the team of experts on treating pandemics for making the right decision for the health of the citizens of Israel,” Bennett said in a statement late on Thursday. “I call on everyone over 50 to get in line tomorrow morning. Go get vaccinated.”
An initial survey has shown that most people who received a third vaccine dose felt similar or fewer side effects than they did after receiving the second shot.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Jeffrey Heller; editing by Richard Pullin)