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Israel extends booster shots to everyone ages 12 and older

A paramedic with Israel's Magen David Adom medical service prepares to administer the third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on August 24, 2021 in Holon.
A paramedic with Israel's Magen David Adom medical service prepares to administer the third shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on August 24, 2021 in Holon.AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Israel on Sunday extended its booster shot campaign to all citizens ages 12 and older amid a surge of delta variant infections that has made the number of new daily cases among the highest in the world.

After a remarkably swift vaccination campaign in the winter and spring, about 80% of Israel’s adult population has been inoculated with at least two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine administered three weeks apart.

But a new study by Israeli experts points to a waning of the vaccine’s protections over time for all ages, a finding that contributed to a U.S. decision to begin offering booster shots to Americans starting next month.

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And a nationwide study of people older than 60 completed by Israeli experts in late August demonstrates that a third shot provides significant extra protection against both infection and severe illness.

Israel began offering third booster shots Aug. 1 to people ages 60 and older who had received a second shot at least five months earlier. The country rapidly expanded the program to include Israelis ages 30 and older. About 2 million Israelis, or half of those in the eligible groups so far, have already received a third shot.

“This is a privilege that no other country has,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel said Sunday, announcing the further expansion of the program to those ages 12 and older.

A preliminary study released this month by Maccabi, an Israeli health care provider, found that a booster shot of the Pfizer vaccine was 86% effective against infection in people older than 60, a week or more after receiving the third dose.

After meeting Bennett at the White House on Friday, President Joe Biden suggested that the U.S. government might offer coronavirus vaccine booster shots sooner than eight months after a second shot, underscoring the administration’s concerns about the spread of the delta variant.

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But on morning news shows Sunday, Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said the administration would for now stick with the plan to offer booster shots eight months after the second dose.

“We’re still planning on eight months — that was the calculation we made,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding that the program would begin Sept. 20 if cleared by federal regulators.

Still, he said, that plan is flexible and could change with new information.

“That’s the plan that we have, but we are open to data as they come in,” he said.