Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi / Flash 90
Health care workers in Jerusalem take test samples of Israelis in a drive-through complex to check whether they have been infected with the coronavirus in Jerusalem, on August 10, 2021.

Israeli health officials are discussing whether a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine will be necessary, as it becomes increasingly clear the country is starting a fifth wave.

“It’s not unreasonable [to think] we’ll need a fourth vaccine,” said Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 News outlet.

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Nine percent of the 605 new infections diagnosed Tuesday in Israel were among those who had received a third, booster shot. Approximately 76 percent of those diagnosed were unvaccinated Israelis. Around 11 percent of the new cases are among those whose vaccine is considered to be expired.

Out of of 124 patients in serious condition on Wednesday, 101 were not vaccinated, and another seven were vaccinated more than six months ago.

One week ago there were 558 new infections; two weeks ago there were 517 new cases, indicating the virus is once again spreading exponentially.

Forty-three percent of the new cases this week are from children age 5 to 11; seven percent are in the population of small children up to age 4, who cannot be inoculated. Eight percent of the new cases are among 12 to 15-year-olds.

Coronavirus Commissioner Professor Salman Zarka warned a meeting of the Coronavirus Cabinet on Tuesday night that Israel is on the threshold of a new wave of the virus.

He followed up his remarks in an interview Wednesday with Israel’s Kan News public broadcaster.

“We’re not in between waves, we’re at the start of a new wave,” he said.

“When we thought about the fifth wave, we didn’t think about an increase in cases like this one. We thought about a new variant imported from abroad, about what’s happening now in Europe,” he said.

“The increase now is too early and too fast. I don’t want to call it the fifth wave, or a new wave at all.

“The pandemic is still here,” he emphasized. The million who didn’t get their booster yet “are not anti-vaxxers… maybe they falsely believe” the danger has ended.

This week Israel launched its campaign to vaccinate children ages 5 to 11, in the face of rising numbers of children who are becoming infected with the virus.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett directed during the Coronavirus Cabinet meeting on Tuesday night that all the country’s students must undergo an antigen test before returning to school after the Chanukah break, as they did at the start of the school year and upon their return from the High Holy Days’ vacation.

Ilana Gans, chief of staff of the Health Ministry’s public health services division, said Wednesday some 30,000 children in that age group have appointments to receive the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, which is one-third the dose that adults receive. Approximately one million children are eligible for the vaccine.

According to data collected 10 days ago presented Wednesday by Israel’s Health Ministry, the country’s transmission rate stands at 1.08.

Israel currently has 6,500 active cases, the Health Ministry reported Wednesday; that number was just 5,000 in previous days.

“If we pass the transmission rate of 1.2, we will have to use restrictions to reduce crowd sizes as a first stage, including in venues operating under the Green Pass, as these are events where more infections are seen,” Gans warned during the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

The Coronavirus Cabinet decided at its meeting that no further restrictions will be lifted at the moment, and the validity of regulations such as indoor occupancy limits and the Green Pass outline will be extended for another two weeks, until December 22.

That decision was approved Wednesday by the Knesset Law and Constitution Committee.

Regarding travelers entering the country, on Wednesday the ministerial committee on the coronavirus pandemic approved new regulations allowing incoming travelers to opt for a rapid virus test at home within a 24-hour window prior to boarding their flight, rather than the more expensive PCR test within a 72-hour window.

The decision was taken in order to simplify travel for tourists to Israel and to reduce the expense for Israeli citizens.

The new regulations take effect on Friday.

More than 5.7 million Israelis have received both shots of the two-dose series of the vaccine. More than 4 million of Israel’s total 9.2 million citizens have also had the third, booster shot. Some 700,000 eligible Israeli adults remain unvaccinated.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.
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