Israel Approves Fourth COVID Vaccine Dose for Vulnerable, Pulls Paxlovid Into Fight Too

Israel received their first shipment of Pfizer's Paxlovid COVID pills Thursday, and announced the approval of a fourth COVID vaccine dose for the most vulnerable among their population amid the rise of Omicron variant cases across the globe. Last week, Chile also approved future fourth doses of the vaccine.

Nachman Ash, director general of the Israeli Health Ministry, said the decision to offer the shots to elderly residents or those with weakened immune systems is based on early research into how contagious the Omicron and Delta variants are, and specifically how contagious they are among people who are months past their third dose booster shot.

The announcement comes days after the Sheba Medical Center said it started a study into the effectiveness of a fourth dose, as 150 of their health care workers received the dose Monday.

"We will continue to track the data on a daily basis and we will see if we need to broaden this recommendation to more of the population," he said.

Last week, the panel of medical experts that advises the government officially approved the recommendation for the fourth dose among health care workers, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

It is not known when the fourth dose will begin being administered in Israel. Chile announced last week it would begin offering the doses among certain groups of its population in February.

Israel, COVID Vaccine Fourth Dose, Chile
A poster displaying a vial of a coronavirus vaccine is seen at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv, on Monday, as the Israeli hospital conducted a trial of the vaccine's fourth jab on staff volunteers. Israel announced Thursday the approval of a fourth vaccine dose for the most vulnerable members of their population. Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images

Israel was among the first countries to roll out Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine a year ago and began rolling out boosters last summer. But it still saw a wave of infections blamed on the delta variant, and officials have warned of another driven by the fast-spreading omicron.

Around two-thirds of Israel's population of nearly 9.5 million have received at least one dose of the vaccine, and some 4.2 million Israelis have received all three doses, according to the latest Health Ministry figures.

Earlier Thursday, Israel received its first shipment of pills that treat the worst effects of the virus.

It's among the first countries to receive Pfizer's Paxlovid, a pill that can be taken at home to ward off the most severe symptoms of the coronavirus. All the previously authorized drugs require an IV or injection.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the shipment would help Israel to "successfully overcome the peak of the approaching omicron wave."

Israeli media reported that the first shipment consists of 20,000 doses, with more expected as Pfizer ramps up production.

Israel currently has more than 22,000 active patients, including more than 90 who are seriously ill. At least 8,243 people have died from COVID-19 in Israel since the start of the pandemic.

Chile has reported almost 86 percent of its population fully vaccinated, making it the country with the highest level of immunization against the coronavirus in Latin America.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.