While third doses are being approved for adults in countries worldwide, Israeli citizens are already receiving a fourth.
Israel’s COVID cases are spiking sharply. On Monday, January 3, the country reported 6,500 new cases, the country's highest in months. Israel’s policies are significantly different from those in the United States, with some cities requiring negative tests for vaccinated individuals to return to society and others quarantining students who have been exposed to the virus.
After a fourth dose was rolled out on a limited trial at the end of 2021, it opened to the public within a few days. Under the new guidelines, health workers and anyone 60 or older can receive a second booster of the vaccine if their last dose was over four months ago.
Preliminary research on the fourth dose is promising. The Sheba Medical Center on the outskirts of Tel Aviv conducted an initial study on 154 hospital workers who had received a booster shot. The participants underwent regular blood testing to track their levels of antibodies. Recently, hospital workers received a second booster, and the initial data suggests that the fourth dose will significantly increase protection against infections, severe symptoms, and hospitalization.
The safety of the fourth dose was also studied. Side effects from the second booster were like those from the first booster shot, with 80% experiencing a localized reaction and 45% experiencing fatigue, muscle aches, or headaches. Only 10% reported a fever, but most said it abated within a day.
“These preliminary findings are in addition to preliminary results received on side effects following the fourth dose and also indicate the safety of the fourth dose. This study will produce additional information in the days and weeks to come,” Professor Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the study, said. Professor Regev-Yochay is also the director of the infection prevention unit at the Sheba Medical center.
With this new policy, Israel now leads the world in “aggressive vaccination strategies,” the Washington Post reports. Of the country’s 9.3 million residents, 68% have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine, 62% have received a second dose, and 44% have received a single booster. Public health officials credit booster shots for Israel’s low infection rates of the delta variant.
Already, 25,000 people have received their fourth dose, with 100,000 more appointments scheduled as of January 4th, 2022. Israeli public health officials urged the 800,000 people who are eligible to consider receiving a fourth dose for their safety. Individuals 60 and older are three times more susceptible to infections than their younger counterparts.
Israel has not announced whether the second booster will be approved for more of the public. However, most of the COVID vaccine doses were rolled out in stages, making it likely that the fourth dose will follow the same trend.