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Over 400,000 Israelis get fourth Covid-19 dose while uptake of booster jabs in SA lag behind

A medical worker prepares a dose of Covid-19 vaccine at Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv. Picture: Jack Guez/AFP

The first round of booster shots for South Africans opened on December 24, however, Wits infectious diseases Professor Francois Venter says the uptake has been slow.

ISRAEL has rolled out a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to over 400,000 people ages 60 and above, medical workers and those with suppressed immune systems, according to the country’s Ministry of Health.

The South African Department of Health opened the first round of booster shots for the general public on December 24. However, Wits infectious diseases Professor Francois Venter says the uptake for first shots and boosters has been slow.

“I’m afraid the lack of urgency around our vaccine programme has been a disaster throughout 2021. I really hope something different happens fast,” he said.

Over 236,000 people have received their booster doses, including healthcare workers under phase 2 of the Sisonke vaccination programme that kicked off in early November.

The department said it expected the numbers to rise as people return to work and students to schools and institutions of higher learning.

“The focus is to reach both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, while at same time encourage the fully vaccinated to go for booster shots, because we have enough capacity in terms of availability of vaccine doses and manpower to administer,” the department added.

Venter said the department should focus on reaching the unvaccinated and promoting booster shots.

“There shouldn’t be a pitting of one against the other, but the biggest question would be, why is everything so slow?” he said.

South Africa has administered 28.5 million Covid-19 vaccines to 18.1 million people which translates to over 45% of the population who have received at least one dose.

Israel’s vaccination rollout started in December 2020 and three months later, Israel had the highest vaccination rate in the world with 54.7 people out of 100 having received a shot.

Now, close to 72% of Israel’s population has received at least one dose and 65% are fully vaccinated.

The European Medicines Agency‘s Head of Biological Health Threats and Vaccines Strategy, Marco Cavaleri, said during a media briefing earlier this week that repeat booster doses could weaken immune response.

“We have not seen data with respect to a fourth dose, so we cannot make any recommendations, but we are rather concerned about a strategy with repeated vaccination within a short term,” he said.

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