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Israel's 2nd Booster: Better 'Safe than Sorry' or Bad for Natural Immunity? Experts Weigh in Amid Omicron

A health worker prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus disease vaccine. REUTERS

A health worker prepares a dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's coronavirus disease vaccine. REUTERS

Even as many countries are yet to implement a booster shot, Israel has jumped a step ahead and recommended that those eligible should receive the fourth shot at least four months after receiving their third.

In a bid to outpace the Omicron Covid variant, Israel is to offer a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to people older than 60 or with compromised immune systems, and to health workers. Even as many countries are yet to implement a booster shot to their populations, Israel has jumped a step ahead and recommended that those eligible should receive the fourth shot at least four months after receiving their third.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has sought to drum up higher Israeli turnout for vaccines, welcomed the panel’s statement as “great news that will help us overcome the Omicron wave that is spreading around the world”. The panel further recommended that the time between the second and third shots be reduced to three months from five.

But what do experts say about a fourth Covid shot? Is it beneficial or unnecessary?

Immune System Fatigue

Some scientists warned that the plan could backfire because too many shots could cause immune system fatigue, impairing the body’s ability to fight the coronavirus. According to a written summary of the discussion obtained by The New York Times, a few members of the government’s advisory panel expressed concern about the elderly.

In addition to concerns that a fourth shot in less than a year could weaken immunity, some experts said Israel’s government had not taken advantage of other options, such as vaccinating more unvaccinated people or giving a third shot to about a million eligible citizens who have not yet received one, the report in the New York Times said.

In addition to the general lack of knowledge about Omicron, the effect of a fourth dose against the new variant is unknown. However, medical experts in the country believe that immunity is waning in those 60 and older, who were among the first to receive the third shot, beginning in August.

‘To Stop Hospital Overflow’

Given the risk of a major Omicron outbreak during the winter, when hospitals are already overcrowded with patients suffering from flu and other respiratory illnesses, the advisory panel unanimously recommended a fourth dose for people over 60, those with compromised immune systems, and health workers, to be administered at least four months after their third shots.

While there is evidence that Omicron, discovered just last month, causes milder illness than previous variants, Israeli officials have stated that by the time they have more information, it may be too late to protect those who are most vulnerable.

“We can sit in our academic armchairs and wait for research from abroad,” another member of the advisory panel, Dr. Tal Brosh, said, “but that’s a kind of privilege we don’t feel we have.”

‘Limited Benefit’

Prof. Dror Mevorach, who heads the coronavirus ward at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, was another outspoken critic who advocated for more research, the report mentions.

“Just because we started with the third dose doesn’t mean there should be a fourth dose with no scientific basis,” he explained. He believes that decreasing antibodies over time is natural, and that boosting antibodies may have limited benefit.

Booster Shot Immunity Wanes in 10 Months: Study

In a more concerning development, a new study published this week discovered that the efficacy of the mRNA Pfizer’s booster shot against symptomatic COVID-19 infection from the Omicron variant waned just 10 weeks after the third shot.

As the highly complex strain with more than 65 mutations and 32 mutations on the spike protein has spread like wildfire, pushing coronavirus cases to more than 100,000 for the first time since the pandemic hit the UK, scientists and health experts have been weighing the protection provided by vaccines against this highly transmissible variant.

Amid this development, Israel’s forward move of a second booster shot may not be as presumptuous as believed.

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first published:December 27, 2021, 08:59 IST