Israeli hospital launches first test of second COVID-19 booster

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By Reuters
Israeli hospital launches first test of second COVID-19 booster

<div> <p><span class="caps">RAMAT</span> <span class="caps">GAN</span>, Israel -An Israeli hospital administered fourth <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19 vaccine doses to a test group of health workers on Monday, in what it called the first major study into whether a second round of boosters will help contend with the fast-spreading Omicron variant.</p> <p>Results of the trial, likely to be closely watched internationally, will be submitted to Israel’s Health Ministry in about two weeks, said a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv.</p> <p>Israel was the fastest country to roll out initial vaccinations a year ago, and became one of the first to launch a booster programme after observing that immunity waned over time.</p> <p>With hospital admissions again climbing as Omicron spreads, a ministry expert panel last week recommended Israel become the first country to offer a second booster – initially to medical workers and those over 60 or with compromised immune systems.</p> <p>The proposal was welcomed by the Israeli government, which has struggled against a plateauing of turn-out for vaccines. But the expert panel was divided over whether there is enough scientific data yet to justify fourth shots. Final approval by Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash is still pending, and Israeli media say he may limit fourth shots to over 70s.</p> <p>“The biggest question is, how significant is Omicron? It’s clear to all that it is very contagious. But whether it causes very severe illness – that’s the most significant question,” said Gili Regev-Yochay, who is running the Sheba trial.</p> <p>The Sheba study of 150 participants “will zero in on efficacy of the vaccine in producing antibodies, and safety, in order to ascertain if a fourth vaccine is needed in general”, the hospital spokesperson said.</p> <p>Hagai Levine, an epidemiologist, said more data is needed to gauge whether there has been a drop in protection against severe disease and death provided by the three shots offered so far.</p> <p>“We can’t blindly assume that another shot will solve it all, because it won’t,” said Levine, who heads Israel’s Association of Public Health Physicians.</p> <p>Some 63% of Israel’s 9.4 million population have received the first two vaccine doses, according to ministry data. Almost 45% have taken a booster shot. Close to 2,000 confirmed or suspected Omicron cases have been logged and infections have risen sharply over the past week.</p> <p>Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has been in self-isolation at home since Sunday after his 14-year-old daughter tested positive for <span class="caps">COVID</span>-19, with what his office says is probably the Omicron variant. He subsequently tested negative, and his office said on Monday he would continue to work from home.</p> </div>