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Israel starts offering third shot of COVID-19 vaccine

A view from Shamir Medical Centre, where an Israeli woman is receding her COVID-19 vaccination, in Tel Aviv, Israel on January 28, 2021 [Mostafa Alkharouf / Anadolu Agency]
A view from Shamir Medical Centre, where an Israeli woman is receding her COVID-19 vaccination, in Tel Aviv, Israel on January 28, 2021 [Mostafa Alkharouf / Anadolu Agency]

Israel said on Sunday it will begin offering a third dose of Pfizer Inc's vaccine to adults with weak immune systems but it was still weighing whether to make the booster available to the general public, reported Reuters.

The rapid spread of the Delta variant has sent vaccination rates in Israel back up as new infections have risen over the past month from single digits to around 450 a day, and the country has moved to fast-track its next Pfizer shipment.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that effective immediately, adults with impaired immune systems who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine could get a booster shot, with a decision pending on wider distribution.

Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE, the main suppliers in a swift Israeli vaccination rollout that began in December, said on Thursday they will ask US and European regulators within weeks to authorise booster shots.

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The two companies cited an increased risk of infection after six months in seeking permission for a third shot.

Drawing criticism from some scientists and officials, the companies did not share the data showing that risk, but said it would soon be made public. They also cited recent Israeli data.

"We are examining this issue and we still do not have a final answer," Horowitz, speaking on Kan public radio, said about a booster for the general population in Israel.

"In any case we are administering as of now a third shot to people suffering from immunodeficiency."

About half of the 46 patients presently hospitalised in Israel in severe condition are vaccinated, and the majority are from risk groups, according to the health authorities. About 5.7 million out of Israel 9.3 population has received at least one dose.

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Horowitz said that separately, the health ministry would plug a Pfizer supply gap for ongoing two-dose inoculations of the general adult population by using Moderna Inc vaccines already in stock.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in broadcast remarks to his cabinet on Sunday that he has agreed with Pfizer to bring forward the next delivery of doses to August 1. The shipment had been widely expected to arrive in September.

There was no immediate response from Pfizer to a request for comment.

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