Israel’s Ministry of Health on Monday began offering a third dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine to severely immunocompromised adults in what health experts say could be the first phase of an experiment to provide coronavirus booster shots for older people and the most vulnerable.
The recommendation, published Sunday by the ministry, said the goal of the new program was to raise antibody levels among immunocompromised citizens, including cancer patients, recipients of liver transplants, and others who have recently exhibited weakened vaccine protection, according to data. It said that it had still not made a decision on administering third shots for the general adult population.
Globally, the push to introduce booster shots has prompted pushback from the World Health Organization (WHO) and rights groups, who say the focus should remain on getting first doses to the world’s most vulnerable.
The decision to offer some people third doses comes as Israel, which was among the fastest countries to vaccinate in the winter and then among the first to begin reopening in the spring, is experiencing a surge in new cases, spurred by the prevalence of the highly transmissible delta variant, first identified in India. Over the past month, infection rates in Israel have spiked from single digits to more than 400 a day.
And on the same day, Pfizer officials met with top U.S. federal health officials to make their case for administering some Americans — particularly the elderly and the immunocompromised — a third dose six to 12 months after receiving the companies’ two-shot regimen.
That meeting came after the Department of Health and Human Services publicly rebuked Pfizer when it and the German company BioNTech announced last week they planned to seek an emergency use authorization for its booster shot. HHS said that fully vaccinated Americans do not need a booster for now.