Israeli President Isaac Herzog Gets Covid Booster Shot as WHO Says They're Not Needed

Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a COVID vaccine booster shot on Friday, as the country prepares to roll out third doses for those aged over 60.

The next phase of the vaccination campaign comes as countries weigh up whether to issue booster doses to citizens, with the World Health Organization (WHO) not recommending them at this time.

On Wednesday, Israel's ministry of health said the advisory group to its vaccine committee had convened that night and the vast majority of staff members recommended vaccinating the adult population with a third shot.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday that the expert committee at the health ministry had updated its recommendations for giving a third booster dose of COVID vaccines to those over 60.

He said the decision was based on "considerable research and analysis" as well as the risk posed by the highly transmissible Delta variant. Bennett said the 2,000 immunosuppressed people had already been given a third dose, and had no severe side effects.

Herzog received his booster shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine at a medical center in the city of Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv. He said he was proud to launch the campaign, Reuters reported.

Israel is now the first country to widely provide a third dose of a Western vaccine to citizens, with others now considering the ethical and scientific implications of following suit.

The WHO currently isn't recommending COVID vaccine booster shots, although that may change. At a live Q&A session on Thursday, Kate O'Brien, WHO immunization director, said: "There's a lot of research going on to be able to provide an evidence-based recommendation so we are not recommending boosters at this point because there isn't enough information to provide an answer to the question [of whether boosters should be given]."

She said if they were recommended, boosters would likely suggested for "a constrained set of people," such as the elderly or those at highest risk of serious disease. Advice would also depend on the products, as not all vaccines are the same.

Risk of New Variants

O'Brien said there is a risk that more COVID variants could emerge and move from country to country if nations with relatively high vaccine rates use excess doses for booster shots when vulnerable populations in other countries remain unprotected.

"We're really in this all together not just for a sort of justice reason or moral reason it's really on the basis of what the biology is of this virus and making sure that we can end this pandemic and get back to normal," she said.

Newsweek has contacted the Israeli health ministry for comment.

Meanwhile in the U.S., the Biden administration is also assessing whether booster shots are needed. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy told MSNBC on Wednesday that dips in immunity and a rise in breakthrough cases are being monitored.

"As soon as we see that, we will make a recommendation on boosters and the good news is that we will have the supply available to provide that to the public, but at this point, based on the collective data the recommendation is not to have boosters implemented, so far," he said.

Israel booster shot president isaac herzog, getty
Israeli President Isaac Herzog receives a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on July 30, 2021. MAYA ALLERUZZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images