Israel’s Health Ministry has halted the national rollout of a fourth vaccine dose for those over 60 or at risk of severe disease that was set to begin on Sunday, opting instead for a hospital trial to address the debate over whether there is sufficient scientific information available to justify another booster drive.
A major Israeli hospital will begin administering a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot to 6,000 individuals, including 150 hospital staff, on Monday in a trial aimed at gauging whether a second booster is necessary nationwide, the facility said on Sunday.
Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv said its trial would shed light on the efficacy and safety of a fourth dose and help decision-makers set health policy in Israel and abroad.
“This study will test the effect of the fourth vaccine dose on the level of antibodies, on preventing contagion, and check its safety,” Gili Regev-Yochay, the study’s director at Sheba said.
“This study is expected to shed light on the additional benefit of giving a fourth dose, and lead us to understand whether and to whom it is worth giving a fourth dose,” she added.
An advisory panel had signed off on the second booster doses on Dec. 21, but the vaccination campaign has been delayed with the minister citing preliminary data on the Omicron variant that suggests patients are 50 to 70 percent less likely to need hospitalization than those with the Delta strain.
The panel recommended offering a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to Israelis aged 60 and over who received a booster shot at least four months ago.
Final approval for the second booster dose from the ministry’s director-general is still pending amid the public debate.
Israel has reported 1,118 confirmed cases of the fast-spreading Omicron variant, with the number of people infected by it doubling every two days.
Sheba Medical Center did not say how long its trial would last.
The 150 Sheba medical workers taking part in the trial, which the hospital said had received Health Ministry approval, got booster shots no later than Aug. 20.
Separately, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said he tested negative on Sunday for COVID-19 after his 14-year-old daughter was infected. It said he would self-isolate.
Reuters contributed to this report.