Israel offering Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine booster to at-risk adults

Pfizer-BioNTech jabs remains 93% effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19 in Israel

Israeli health officials said Sunday the country would begin offering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to adults considered at-risk as it weighs a decision regarding the general public. The third shot will be offered to adults who have already had two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and are considered to have impaired immune systems, Reuters reported. 

The move comes about a week after the country reported that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine efficacy in preventing infection and symptomatic diseases had fallen to 64% amid a rise in the Delta variant and a decrease in mitigation measures. The vaccine remains 93% effective in preventing serious illness due to COVID-19, including hospitalizations. 

The Pfizer vaccine is being offered to everyone in Israel ages 12 and up. According to the latest figures, Israel is closing in on 60% of its population being fully vaccinated and has already given out over 10.9 million doses. 

In a bid to accommodate the expected demand for more doses, especially as a booster is offered to at-risk adults, the country reached an agreement with Pfizer to deliver the next round of shots on Aug. 1 instead of September. 

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Israel has about 46 patients in serious condition, with the majority of cases involving at-risk individuals, according to Reuters. About half of those cases involve individuals who were vaccinated. Officials have said there is no rush to decide on boosters for the general population. 

"It’s rather complex," Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health, said while appearing on public radio. "We’re presently seeing outbreaks largely among vaccinated children and their parents who weren’t necessarily vaccinated in January and February and we need to identify the biases." 

Pfizer said it would meet with top U.S. officials Monday to discuss the company’s request for federal authorization for a booster. Following their initial announcement, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a joint response stating that vaccinated Americans "do not need" a booster at this time. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, has since acknowledged that "it is entirely conceivable, maybe likely" that a booster will be needed, but that it’s too earlier for federal officials to make that call. 

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"Right now, given the data and the information we have, we do not need to give people a third shot," he said. "That doesn’t mean we stop there. ... There are studies being done now ongoing as we speak about looking at the feasibility about if and when we should be boosting people."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.