Israel last week approved a fourth dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, a second booster, for people who are immune-compromised and the elderly living in care homes.
“We now have a new layer of defense,” Bennett said in a televised news conference, adding that Israel’s top government medical official, whose approval is needed to expand the booster campaign, had signed off on the latest move.
Earlier, the Health Ministry’s Director-General Nachman Ash said Israel could reach herd immunity as Omicron infections mounted and Merck & Co.’s molnupiravir anti-viral pill was approved for use in COVID-19 patients over 18.
Herd immunity is the point at which a population is protected from a virus, either through vaccination or by people having developed antibodies by contracting the disease.
The highly transmissible Omicron variant has caused a wave of coronavirus cases, with worldwide infections hitting a record high.
Deaths, however, have not risen to the same degree, raising hopes that the new variant is less lethal, a view Bennett also echoed in describing the second booster as largely a bid to prevent serious illness among the elderly.
Bennett said that up to 50,000 people might soon be infected each day, while eligibility for testing could be tightened to help relieve long lines at testing stations.
“The (infection) numbers will have to be very high in order to reach herd immunity,” Ash told 103 FM Radio earlier. “This is possible but we don’t want to reach it by means of infections, we want it to happen as a result of many people vaccinating.”
The head of the health ministry’s coronavirus task force, Salman Zarka, said herd immunity was far from guaranteed, because experience over the past two years showed that some COVID-19 patients who recovered were later reinfected.
Israel’s health ministry says around 60 percent of its 9.4 million population are fully vaccinated, almost all with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which means they have either received three doses or have recently had their second.
But hundreds of thousands of those eligible for a third inoculation have so far not taken it.