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Israel now offering fourth covid shot to anyone 60 and older

A medical worker prepares a fourth dose of coronavirus vaccine for an Israeli after the Health Ministry approved a second booster last month. (Nir Elias/Reuters)

JERUSALEM — Israel on Monday began offering anyone over 60 a chance to get a fourth shot of a coronavirus vaccine, greatly expanding a double-booster effort that previously included just older residents with compromised immune systems and some health-care workers.

The initiative puts Israel at the forefront of aggressive vaccination strategies as the omicron variant drives up infection rates around the world.

When officials launched the limited second-booster program last week, they said they were waiting for more data before making it more widely available. But within days, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the additional booster shot would be available to anyone 60 or older whose last dose was at least four months ago.

“Omicron is not delta,” Bennett said at a late Sunday news conference. “It’s a different ballgame altogether.”

Booster shots crushed Israel’s delta wave. It’s betting a fourth dose will do the same to omicron.

Expanding eligibility for the additional dose — the fourth round of shots since vaccinations began a year ago — is meant to protect the most vulnerable from the wave of positive cases that Bennett said could reach 50,000 a day within weeks in the small country.

Israel logged more than 6,500 positive cases Monday, the highest daily rate in months, according to Health Ministry figures. More than 100 cities across the country are now operating under their strongest protocols, forcing some students back to remote learning if they have been exposed. Israeli epidemiologists said this week that they expect the omicron variant, which appears to be more infectious but cause less serious illness, to hospitalize about 3 out of every 1,000 infected people.

Last week, the government rolled back some of its quarantine requirements for vaccinated people, fearing the rules could affect tens of thousands and lead to a de facto lockdown. Under new regulations, fully vaccinated people can avoid quarantine as soon as they test negative for the virus.

Israel begins trial of fourth coronavirus vaccine dose ahead of planned national campaign

Critics have said research is still needed on whether a fourth vaccine dose will be effective. Some have argued that it would be better to focus on reaching the remaining vaccine holdouts. About 6.4 million of Israel’s 9.3 million residents have received their first shot, 5.8 million their second and 4.1 million their third, according to the Health Ministry.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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