Israel is planning to become the first country in the world to offer a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to its major at-risk populations, which includes health workers and elderly people over 60 years of age, said Prime Minister Nafthali Bennett's office. Israel has confirmed its first death from the Omicron variant on Tuesday.
"This is wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world," Mr Bennett said, as he urged people to take up the offer as soon as possible. When Covid-19 vaccination programmes were first launched, Israel's jabs were rolled out quickly and there was a relatively high take-up.
Bennett welcomed the plan and told officials to start preparing. The plans for a fourth dose still have to be approved by a committee of experts. Israel has already opened up vaccinations for children aged 5 and above in November in order to combat what the Prime Minister called 'the children's wave' of infections. 63% of the population has received two doses of the vaccine, making it one of the highest vaccination rates in the world.
The majority of Israelis received the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccines early as part of a deal to provide data on vaccination efficiency and effects to the company. A fourth dose is recommended four months after the third.
Amongst some of the new measures introduced to curb the spread of the coronavirus, schools in "red/orange" areas with higj numbers of Covid-19 cases will only be allowed to operate offline classes if 70% of the class is vaccinated. Children under 18 living in areas where vaccination rates are low will have classes conducted online.
The new policy goes into immediate effect for children ages 13 and above; for younger children, it will take effect in three weeks' time, Israeli government officials said.
Experts credited the third booster dose with bringing down the new wave of infections that swept through Israel in September and October. So far, Israel has 340 confirmed cases of Omicron, with two thirds of those cases are in people who have either been fully vaccinated or recently recovered from the disease. In addition, there are more than 800 suspected cases of the Omicron variant.