COVID boosters: Israeli life saver, death blow for low-income countries

Israel’s decision to go ahead with its third COVID campaign when the majority of countries around the world have not even vaccinated their health workers could prolong the pandemic.

According to Dr Dorit Nitzan, European Regional Director of Emergencies for the World Health Organization (WHO), as rich countries buy up the world’s scarce reserves of vaccine doses, leaving poor and middle-income countries without, “those who are left behind may actually advance the pandemic. The virus will not go away in any way, form or form, and we will not find a way to live next to the virus. “

To date, according to the WHO, 75% of vaccines have been administered by 10 countries, while low-income countries have only received 1%.

In Israel, 5.4 million Israelis are fully immunized and 1.4 million more have already received a third dose, while these poorer countries are “not getting enough [doses] to fully immunize their health workers, the elderly and others most at risk of serious illness and death, ”said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom.

“The situation is horrible,” Professor Dan Turner, deputy director general of research and development and intellectual property at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post.

Tedros wrote in a column for Time magazine last week that giving booster doses to populations who have already received a full cycle of immunization, “not only is this ethically reprehensible … the scientific data to support such a major policy intervention, which will have dramatic effects on the global vaccine supply, being brought together.

The WHO has called for a “global moratorium on COVID-19 booster injections, at least until the end of September, to allow progress towards the vaccination of at least 10% of the population of each country”, Tedros said.

Israel has chosen not to listen – and the country says it has data to back up its decision.

A preliminary report released last week by Maccabi Health Services showed that the Pfizer vaccine was 86% effective in preventing infection in people 60 years and older after a third dose. Recall that a previous study by the Ministry of Health had shown that the vaccine had only become 39% effective in stopping the transmission of the Delta variant.

A separate study from Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center found that people under 65 who were immunocompromised developed 43% more antibodies after receiving a third injection of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine than they did after. have received the second injection. For those over 65, there was a 36% increase.

Additionally, Department of Health Director General Nachman Ash said the third dose is expected to have a longer lasting effect than the previous two – likely at least nine to 12 months.

“The data are very encouraging,” said Professor Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunology laboratory at Bar-Ilan University. “We know that the effectiveness of the vaccine decreases over time and therefore more [antibodies] you start with, the more effective the protection can be.

However, as Nitzan said, “No one is safe until everyone is safe.”

This is because while so many people around the world are unvaccinated, there is a higher risk of new variants emerging – variants potentially even more resistant to vaccines than the Delta variant and the dozen or so variants of the Delta variant. that have emerged.

The Delta variant was first discovered in India, where vaccines were not available.

“Who knows what the next variant will be,” Nitzan said. “Being a Good Samaritan is the right way to do things in general, but there is something beyond: the health security of humanity as a whole.”

To facilitate equitable access and distribution of COVID vaccines, WHO has partnered with UNICEF, GAVI and CEPI to create the COVAX Global Immunization Center. WHO has also made a global recommendation that initial vaccination should prioritize groups most at risk of infection and those most likely to develop severe disease.

While Turner said he was not opposed to Israel handing out the third dose because “vaccines are very important for COVID, they save lives,” he said the country must do whatever it takes. is in its power to “close the gap, at least a little bit.”

First, he said, Israelis can participate in private initiatives, such as the social media campaign currently circulating calling on anyone who gets vaccinated for free in Israel to donate $ 5 or $ 6 – the cost of a cup of coffee – at COVAX.

Second, Israel should give COVAX doses.

“Because of the history of the Jewish people, we have to be selfless, not only on an individual level, but also on a national level,” Turner said. “We have to be one of the first nations on the list of supporting countries through COVAX and not the last. We haven’t given anything to COVAX so far despite being a rich country.

He recommended that Israel donate 5% of the 36 million doses recently purchased from Pfizer to the COVAX program, ideally intended for the Palestinian Authority.

The vaccination rate among Palestinians living in the West Bank is 9%. In Gaza, the situation is even worse.

“We are all in the same epidemiological net,” Nitzan explained of Israel and the Palestinians. “It makes absolutely no sense not to have included them already. We should at least do it now.

In March, a senior health ministry official told the To post that Israel planned to vaccinate the entire Palestinian population over the age of 16, once it has vaccinated its own citizens and received excess doses. He said health ministry professionals were almost unanimous in saying that there is both an epidemiological and a humanitarian obligation to vaccinate Palestinians.

Israel attempted to trade 1 million doses of Pfizer vaccine that were about to expire in June, but they were rejected by the Palestinian Authority.

Since then, Israel has asked Pfizer for early deliveries to administer the booster injections.

Nitzan confirmed that if Israel wanted to vaccinate its neighbors, it would not have to negotiate the distribution of these vaccines directly with the Palestinians, but could donate them through COVAX.

Cohen, however, said Israel is already contributing to the world – even without buying a single dose for another country.

“Israel is a pioneer in immunization,” he said. “We are called the laboratory of the world and that in itself is a huge contribution to our fight against this pandemic. Of course, we can always do more. But countries rely on our lab results all over the world. “

Nitzan said she understands it’s the government’s job to look after its own citizens first. She said some have even justified Israel’s position by comparing it to when cabin pressurization is lost when a plane flies and passengers have to put on their own oxygen masks first and then help out. child sitting next to them.

“Unfortunately, the virus is much more sophisticated,” she said. “The virus does not differentiate between nationality, race, gender. He only knows humanity. “

Turner said that “COVID has given us two things: a huge challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is very clear.

“The opportunity is to show global solidarity and try to have global responsibility – to teach countries to stop thinking about themselves and start thinking globally,” he said.

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