Early Saturday, Health Ministry officials in Israel expressed concern that the country’s third shot campaign could be undermined by the decision of an FDA panel to only recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to those at high risk or over the age of 65. According to officials, they are now concerned that people will be wary of the 3rd vaccine, and mandating third shots as part of their Green Pass policy could potentially lead to legal challenges. On Friday, a committee of outside experts known for giving advice to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) rejected the idea of booster shots for everyone.
They chose to discount expert testimony and Israeli data and the vote stood at 16-2. According to members, there was not enough safety data related to third doses and they were also doubtful about the value of mass boosters, instead of those that are targeted towards specific groups. In an 18-0 vote, they endorsed the decision of giving booster shots to certain groups of the US population, mostly those who are at risk from the coronavirus. Even though the panel rejected Israeli data that was presented to the FDA and showed the effectiveness of vaccine waning after six months, the rulings were welcomed by the Israeli Health Ministry.
They stated that the rulings validated their decision to offer booster shots to everyone aged 12 and over. They said that Israel had also begun their campaign the same way i.e. started with those 65 and above, health workers, and those in danger. They had gradually expanded the campaign to all those aged 12 and above. The statement from the Health Ministry said that Israel had acted in a swift and responsible manner for tackling the risk of morbidity and the data highlights the effectiveness of the booster shots in restoring protection from COVID-19.
Nonetheless, a senior ministry official said that Israel was concerned that their booster program would be undermined due to this ruling, which has already vaccinated more than 3 million people with the third shot. The official said that this would affect the number of people who will be willing to receive the third shot because many of them would become unsure. He also said that this would affect their ability to implement their Green Pass policy, under which the third shot is mandatory for people. This Green Pass allows people into communal spaces and public events.
The overwhelming rejection of the FDA panel came despite full-throated arguments made by health officials from Pfizer and Israel alike. Israeli officials provided figures to the FDA panel, which indicate waning immunity against coronavirus amongst everyone six months after they have been vaccinated. Health of Public health, Sharon Alroy-Preis informed the FDA panel that antibody protection is increased tenfold due to the booster shot in people 60 and above. She said that it acted like a fresh vaccine and brought the protection back to its original levels, thereby helping Israel in reducing the number of cases in the fourth wave plaguing the country.