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An Israeli nurse receives a fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv on December 27, 2021.

Jack Guez | AFP | Getty Images

Three doses of the vaccine are likely to provide sufficient long-term protection against severe Covid-19, a prominent Israeli doctor has said.

Speaking to CNBC in a phone call, Prof Eyal Leshem, an infectious disease specialist at Israel’s Sheba Medical Center, predicted that in the long run, a two- or three-dose course of vaccination would likely provide a good protection against serious illnesses for the majority of people. .

“We may need to update these boosters every few years, maybe every year, to adjust them to the current variant, but we may not need boosters if future variants turn out. less virulent as seen with omicron, “he said. “So it is possible that people who received two or three doses of the current vaccines, then were exposed during this wave to omicron or who are exposed in future waves to other less virulent variants, don’t need another reminder at all. “

Israel began rolling out fourth doses of the vaccine late last year for the elderly, some healthcare workers and people with weakened immune systems.

Leshem conceded that the scientific basis for Israel’s deployment of the fourth doses was not as strong as it had been for the approval of the booster injections, but he said experts decided to take the measure at cases where the boosters’ antibodies would weaken over time as they had seen. to do this after the first two doses.

“We really have very little scientific data to suggest that the fourth dose will add dramatically improved protection against serious illness and hospitalization,” he told CNBC. “So this was a recommendation based on expert opinion, rather than a recommendation based on solid data as we would ideally like to have in clinical medicine. We use expert opinion when we do not have evidence, and we do it all the time in clinical medicine. “

Health officials in other countries are currently divided over whether fourth doses of Covid vaccines will be needed.

Last week, the UK vaccination authority said there was “no immediate need” to introduce a second booster, although the matter remains under investigation. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that severely immunocompromised people receive an additional dose in their primary series of vaccines, as well as a subsequent booster.

In December, the CEO of Pfizer told CNBC that the fourth doses may be needed sooner than expected due to the highly transmissible variant of omicron.

However, the WHO has warned that rolling out too many booster doses in richer countries could actually prolong the pandemic by depriving poorer countries of access to vaccines.

Vaccination campaign

Israel has embarked on an aggressive vaccination program in an effort to bring the pandemic under control and has had one of the fastest vaccine deployments in the world.

As of Sunday, around 71% of the Israeli population had received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, of which 64% had been immunized with two doses. Almost half of the population has received a booster.

People who received their second injection more than six months ago are no longer considered fully vaccinated in Israel, where booster injections have been available to anyone over 12 since the summer.

In Israel, individuals must show their vaccination status – or that they have recently recovered from Covid-19 – in order to enter certain places, including gyms, restaurants and museums.

The country recorded 30,970 new cases of the virus on Sunday – the highest number of positive tests in a day since mass testing began.

In the week ending January 9, 136,569 people in Israel tested positive for Covid-19, marking a 331% increase from the previous week.

According to official data, the R-number of the virus – the speed at which it reproduces – has exceeded two, which means that an average infected person will spread Covid-19 to two other people. Any number R greater than one means that an epidemic is growing exponentially.

Hospitalizations in Israel are also on the rise but are far from their pandemic peak. The seven days leading up to Jan.8 saw 733 hospitalizations, according to Our World in Data, marking the highest weekly number since the appearance of the omicron variant. Israel’s hospitalization rate peaked in January 2021, when 1,985 people were admitted to hospital within a week.

However, deaths have remained stagnant thanks to the omicron wave in Israel.

On Sunday, a Covid-19 patient died in the country. This individual has been vaccinated. On average, two people have died from Covid-19 each day over the past month. At the end of January last year, Israel recorded a record high of more than 60 deaths in one day.

Leshem told CNBC that the rate of serious illnesses and hospitalizations could rise further, as there was generally a lag between the increase in cases and their consequences.

“However, we don’t think we’ll see a big increase like we would expect with the previous variants,” he said. Omicron appears “inherently milder in most people, and this may be related to viral biology – its affinity for the upper respiratory tract as opposed to its affinity for the lower respiratory tract, which causes pneumonia.”

He added that the high use of booster shots in Israel, as well as the country’s young population, were also likely to suppress any significant increase in serious illnesses.

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