Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Sunday, January 2, 2022, that Israel would offer a fourth Covid vaccine shot to people age 60 and over, as well as to medical workers, making it the first country to roll out an additional booster so broadly as it braces for a surge of infections from the Omicron variant.
“The Omicron wave is here,” Mr. Bennett said in a televised news conference.
He said the decision to roll out the fourth dose of vaccine for vulnerable people who had their last shot at least four months ago would provide Israel with “a new layer of protection.”
The Ministry of Health said it had approved the move in light of rising morbidity and the risk to older people.
Israel is reporting about 5,000 new daily cases, the highest since September. Mr. Bennett said that the peak of the Omicron wave, expected in the coming weeks, could bring up to 50,000 new cases per day.
The prime minister’s office said the new boosters would start on Monday.
But health ministry officials did not immediately present new data to back the decision to go ahead with a little-tested fourth dose on such a wide scale.
In recent days, the ministry first approved the fourth dose for people with weakened immune systems and then for the residents and staff of nursing homes. But health officials said they wanted to review more data from abroad about Omicron and about the value of added boosters before approving the fourth dose for the older population in general.
Israeli experts said it was not immediately clear what the new decision was based on.
Some experts have warned that it may be premature, and some have voiced concerns that the fourth shot in less than a year could actually weaken immunity.
But a panel of medical experts advising the Israeli government has recommended giving the fourth shot to those 60 and older, pointing to waning immunity in that age group, which was the first to receive the third shot starting in August.
Israel was a leader in rolling out the first round of Covid vaccinations and later in giving booster shots, so its results have been closely watched by the rest of the world.