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Fourth shot or not? Israel reverses course on offering an additional COVID vaccine

Bennett pushed the fourth shot as a way to head off his own dire predictions of a surge in infections from the Omicron variant

Israelis receive their dose of COVID-19 vaccine, at a Ministry of Health vaccine center at the Malcha mall in Jerusalem, Dec. 23, 2021. (Photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel made headlines last week when officials decided emphatically to begin offering the fourth COVID shot in a year to its population older than 60 years and for immunocompromised individuals.

"The citizens of Israel were the first to get the third vaccine and we are continuing to lead with the fourth vaccine," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Tuesday.

But despite the hype for leading the world in a fourth shot, the vaccination campaign – set to begin on Sunday – seems to have been quietly shelved. At least for now.

The decision to begin administering a fourth shot came after a fiery back and forth between Bennett and Public Health Director Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis in closed meetings, as reported by Hebrew media outlets.

Bennett pushed the fourth shot as a way to head off his own dire predictions of a surge in infections from the Omicron variant. He has attributed Israel’s exit from the Delta wave to the government’s distribution of the third shot, in which Israel led the world.

Alroy-Preis insisted that researchers still needed time to wrap up clinical research on a fourth dose by Sheba Medical Center, but Bennett pressed for a different response – and it came last week when an expert panel voted to approve a fourth shot even while admitting they lacked the evidence to do so. The panel even recommended cutting the time between the third and fourth doses from the previously recommended six months to just four to five months.

“[The recommendation] was made because if we don’t vaccinate the price will be very high – serious morbidity and a lot of quarantine,” Dr. Boaz Lev said at a press conference last week. “This variant is like a tsunami.”

Galia Rahav, who is head of Sheba Medical Center's infectious disease unit and has spearheaded the nation’s vaccination effort, said at the time, “It’s much more elegant to decide when you have hard data, but it’s true that if we will wait for hard data it will be too late.”

Now, however, it seems caution has prevailed. Instead of a widespread campaign, Walla reported on Monday that just one Israeli received a fourth COVID shot as part of the study on the fourth vaccine against the Omicron variant.

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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