JERUSALEM — A medical panel advising the Israeli government has recommended making fourth coronavirus vaccine doses available to people age 18 and over, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday, citing what it suggested were some early signs of the effectiveness of an additional shot in helping prevent serious illness.
The recommendation, which the ministry has yet to approve, comes weeks after Israel began offering fourth doses to people age 60 and over, as well as to medical workers and people with weakened immune systems, as it braced for a surge of infections from the highly contagious Omicron variant. It was the first country to offer such additional shots so broadly.
The panel recommended offering a fourth shot to people age 18 and above at least five months after they recover from Covid-19 or receive a third vaccine shot. About 600,000 Israelis have already received a fourth dose.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry cited initial results from its own researchers and those of four other Israeli scientific institutions indicating that a fourth dose provided three to five times as much protection against serious illness in people age 60 and over compared with those in that age group who had received only a third shot at least four months ago.
Researchers at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv found that a fourth dose given to 154 medical workers produced a fivefold increase in antibodies in recipients’ blood within a week. Higher levels of antibodies would most likely give added protection against serious illness.
But Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, the director of the Infectious Disease Unit at Sheba who is leading the small study there, cautioned on Kan public radio on Tuesday that it is unclear how long the added protection will last.
Experts believe that Israel is nearing the peak of its Omicron outbreak, with a daily average of more than 90,000 new cases in a total population of just over nine million.