The Israeli government announced it expects a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered to people older than 60 or those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19, such as immunocompromised people and health care workers.
The decision is pending formal approval by senior health officials.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the decision, saying it is “wonderful news that will assist us in getting through the Omicron wave that is engulfing the world.”
“The State of Israel is continuing to stand at the forefront of the global effort to deal with the pandemic,” he said in a statement. “The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well.”
Specifically, a fourth dose is recommended to those aged over 60 provided that four months have passed since their third COVID-19 vaccine dose. A fourth dose is also recommended for health care workers, provided four months have passed since their third dose.
The panel also recommended that the third dose of the COVID-19 be given three months after a person’s second shot—instead of five months as was previously recommended—as part of preparation for the fifth wave of COVID-19 in the country.
“I call on everyone who meets the criteria that the members of the committee have set: go and get vaccinated,” Bennett said. “Take responsibility for the health and livelihoods of us all. The vaccines save lives.”
The development comes on the same day as the first known death in Israel attributed to the Omicron variant was reported by a hospital in Israel, the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. The man, who died on Monday, was in his sixties. His death comes two weeks after he was admitted to the coronavirus ward.
“His morbidity stemmed mainly from pre-existing sicknesses and not from respiratory infection arising from the coronavirus,” according to a statement from the hospital.
The Israeli Health Ministry noted that at least 340 cases of Omicron have been confirmed in the country.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ordered the military’s Homefront Command to prepare for the eventuality of 5,000 new cases per day.
The government expanded travel bans this week to countries including the United States, Germany, Italy, Turkey, and Canada.
Bennett’s office said it had also encouraged remote work by reducing office attendance to 50 percent for public sector employees.
Israel was among the first countries in the world to introduce the COVID-19 vaccine for the public, as well as introduce vaccine passports and mandatory vaccinations, and in recent months, the Israeli government has been pushing the public to get booster shots.
Israeli authorities announced on Nov. 15 that children aged 5–11 would be eligible for the weaker dosing of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine—coming just a week after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the pediatric shot for broad use in that age group.
Israel has largely relied on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in its public rollout, until about August 2021, when it largely pivoted to the Moderna vaccine. The Pfizer vaccine is still being administered to those under 18 because the Moderna vaccine has not yet been approved for them. The Pfizer vaccine is also being administered to people waiting on their second dose.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Update: This article has been updated to emphasize the booster recommendation had not received final approval