Israel said on Sunday it would begin offering a booster of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to adults with weakened immune systems, but still wondered whether it should be given to the general public.
The rapid spread of the Delta variant has resulted in the number of new infections rising from single digits a month ago to around 450 per day, and the country has decided to speed up its next Pfizer shipment.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said adults with weakened immune systems who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine could be given an immediate booster, with the decision pending wider distribution.
Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, the main providers of a rapid Israeli vaccination rollout that began in December, said on Thursday they would ask US and European regulators in a matter of weeks to allow the booster injections.
The two companies spoke of an increased risk of infection after six months of requesting authorization for a third injection. Drawing criticism from some scientists and officials, the companies did not share data showing the risk, but said it would be made public soon.
“We are examining this question and we still do not have a definitive answer,” Horowitz said of a recall for the general population in Israel.
“In any case, we are now administering a third injection to people with immunodeficiency. These are, for example, people who have had organ transplants or who suffer from a health problem that causes a decrease in immunity.
About half of the 46 patients currently in serious condition in Israeli hospitals have been vaccinated, according to data from the Ministry of Health. Israel’s coronavirus pandemic response coordinator Nachman Ash said on Wednesday that the overwhelming majority of them were from high-risk groups, were over 60 and had previous health issues.
Horowitz also said the Health Department would fill a supply gap from Pfizer for ongoing two-dose inoculations to the general adult population using Moderna vaccines already in stock.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in remarks released to his cabinet on Sunday that he had reached an agreement with Pfizer to bring the next dose delivery forward to August 1. The cargo was generally expected to arrive in September.
Israel hopes that earlier deliveries will allow more young people to get vaccinated before the start of the school year in September. Under the regulations of the Ministry of Health, young Israelis can receive injections of Pfizer but not yet those produced by Moderna.
Israel has administered Pfizer injections almost exclusively to about 60% of its 9.3 million people. A batch of 700,000 doses due to expire at the end of July was sent to South Korea, because a recent slowdown in the rate of vaccinations would probably have resulted in their loss.
Under the deal, Seoul will return the same number of shots, already ordered by Pfizer, in September and October.
“We have Moderna vaccines and adults who want to vaccinate can do so starting this morning, or maybe tomorrow, with Moderna vaccines,” Horowitz said.