Israel's president gets third COVID-19 shot, urges boosters for over-60s

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JERUSALEM, July 29 (Reuters) - Israeli President Isaac Herzog received a third shot of coronavirus vaccine on Friday, kicking off a campaign to give booster doses to people aged over 60 as part of efforts to slow the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.

Herzog, 60, received a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 (PFE.N) vaccine at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

He said he was proud to launch the booster vaccination initiative "which is so vital to enable normal circumstances of life as much as possible in this very challenging pandemic". Herzog's wife Michal also received a shot.

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The couple were accompanied by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who urged the importance of booster shots in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and pledged that Israel would share all the information it gleans from the public inoculation rollout.

"Israel is a pioneer in going ahead with the third dose for older people of the age of 60 and above. The fight against the COVID pandemic is a global fight. The only way we can defeat COVID is together," Bennett said.

The booster campaign, with shots administered by health maintenance organisations, will effectively turn Israel into a testing ground for a third dose before approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

On the eve of the booster rollout Bennett said Israel had already given 2,000 immunosuppressed people a third dose with no severe adverse events.

His government hopes that stepped up inoculation efforts will help avoid further costly lockdowns.

Israel was a world leader in the vaccination rollout, and around 57% of the 9.3 million population has been double-vaccinated, rising to 87% of people in their sixties and more than 90% of those over 70.

Many seniors got their first shots in December, January and February as they were regarded as the most vulnerable sector of the population.

But since the emergence of the Delta variant, the health ministry has twice reported a drop in the vaccine's efficacy against infection and a slight decrease in its protection against severe disease.

Daily new infections have spiked to more than 2,000, up from a handful of cases per day a few months ago and about 160 people are currently hospitalised with severe symptoms. More than 6,400 people have died from the virus.

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Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Catherine Evans

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Jerusalem bureau chief who has reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iraq War, South Asia, Arab Spring, with experience in New York and London as a correspondent and video journalist as part of award-winning multimedia teams with The New York Times and The Times of London. Co-author of the book 'Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement'.