Israel has announced it will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to health workers and people older than 60, amid concern about the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
A Health Ministry expert panel recommended the fourth shot late on Tuesday, a decision that was swiftly welcomed by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as “great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world”.
“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,” he said in remarks relayed by his office, calling on those who meet the criteria to “Go and get vaccinated”.
The Israeli Health Ministry said in a statement that immunodeficient people will also be eligible for the fourth shot, which it said can be administered to them, the elderly and the medical teams at least four months after the third shot.
The decision follows the first known death in Israel of a patient with the Omicron variant.
An Israeli hospital on Tuesday confirmed the death but said he had suffered from a number of serious pre-existing conditions.
The Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba said the man in his 60s died on Monday, two weeks after he was admitted to the coronavirus ward.
A hospital statement said the patient suffered from a variety of serious illnesses. “His morbidity stemmed mainly from pre-existing sicknesses and not from respiratory infection arising from the coronavirus,” it said.
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry said there were at least 340 known cases of Omicron in Israel.
Israel has already this week expanded a travel ban to countries including the United States, Germany, Italy, Turkey and Canada to try to curb the spread of the virus.
It has also issued limitations on eating in shopping malls and instructed that children in communities with high morbidity and low vaccination rates should learn from home. It has also reduced office attendance by 50 percent for public sector employees to encourage more remote work.
And Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the military’s Homefront Command to prepare for the eventuality of 5,000 new cases per day, his office said.
More than 4.1 million Israelis have received three doses of a coronavirus vaccine in the country of roughly 9.3 million people.
Inoculation rates remain low among teens and young children. Fewer than one percent of children aged five to 11 have received a single coronavirus jab.