The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

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Israel’s Covid-19 advisory panel is officially recommending a fourth vaccine dose for people age 18 and older if more than five months have passed since their third dose.

According to the panel, a statistical analysis on data from around 400,000 people in Israel who already received the fourth shot shows it provided more than three times the level of protection against serious illness, while also doubling the protection against infection.

In early January, Israel began administering a fourth vaccine dose to people over the age of 60 and other people considered high risk. 

The panel recommendation comes a week after preliminary data from a small sample released by Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv led researchers to withhold their backing for a fourth dose to all adults. The data in that study was taken two weeks after 154 health care workers at the medical center were given a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, along with 120 health care workers who were given a fourth dose of the Moderna vaccine. A third group of health care workers were not given any fourth dose.

Researchers said results showed that while a fourth vaccine dose substantially increased the number of antibodies, it was not necessarily enough to prevent infection caused by the Omicron coronavirus variant. “Slightly fewer infections” were observed among the vaccinated group, but researchers said they did not see “enough to support [any] decision to give it to all of the population.”

The latest recommendation by the government’s advisory panel is subject to approval by the director general of the Ministry of Health. It is not clear yet how and when the director general will decide. 

According to Johns Hopkins University data, more than 212,000 cases were reported in Israel in the past day.

There are 968 people hospitalized in serious condition, according to government data. 

Professor Eran Segal, the top Covid adviser to the Israeli government, said in a series of interviews to Israeli media on Monday that he believes Israel will start to see a decrease in infections this week, but that the chance of getting infected now is the highest it has been since the outbreak of the pandemic. 

However, he said Omicron could be the beginning of the end of the pandemic.

“There may be additional variants. But the more time passes, our toolbox also improves. We have medicines now; we have the vaccines. There will be natural immunity of perhaps over half the population in Israel and around the world. All those things we hope will help to end the coronavirus, at least as the pandemic we have come to know in the past two years,” Segal told Channel 12 news. 



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