Israel’s vaccine advisory group today recommended that adults in older age groups receive a booster COVID dose, a strategy other countries are eyeing as Delta (B1617.2) variant activity surges and questions swirl about the length of vaccine protection.
Many global health experts have criticized countries for considering booster doses, given that health workers and at-risk groups in many low- and middle-income countries have not received their first doses and that the science isn’t clear about the need for the boosters. Meanwhile, African officials today said vaccine deliveries are improving.
Israel weighs age cutoff for booster in older adults
In Israel, the health ministry’s vaccine advisory group recommended a booster dose for older adults, but was divided on whether the cutoff should be 60, 65, or 70, according to Haaretz, a newspaper based in Tel Aviv.
Data presented at the group’s meeting suggested that the vaccine’s effectiveness against severe disease in 60-year-old people has declined from 97% in January to 81%. Israel is using two-dose mRNA vaccines in its immunization program.
Most of the panel members agreed that people age 60 and older should receive a booster, but some pushed for an older limit. The head of the country’s health ministry is expected to make the final decision, and government leaders will discuss the health and economic factors of adding a third dose.
At the end of June, the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) issued interim recommendations for a booster dose, which said any potential booster dose program should begin in September to head off extra pressure on health systems if SARS-CoV-2 circulates alongside seasonal flu.
They said any potential booster shot program should be rolled out in two stages: first in those older than 70 and in high-risk groups such as health workers and those who are immunocompromised, then second in all adults older than 50 and those who are in other risk groups.
Mixed pattern in Africa, with more vaccine on way
At a media briefing today, the head of the WHO’s African region office said Africa is still in the middle of its third wave, but cases have declined for 2 weeks in a row. Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, said the slight slowdown is promising and a cause for cautious optimism. “But we are not out of the woods yet.”
She said most of the drop this week was in South Africa, the region’s hardest hit country. However, 22 countries in Africa reported steep rises of 20% or more over the past 2 weeks, with the highly transmissible Delta variant now detected in 26 of the region’s countries.
Regarding vaccine supply, Moeti said supplies are quickly ramping up from multiple sources, after stalling in June. Africa received 4 million doses from COVAX last week, with deliveries from the African Union’s procurement program also picking up. The United States announced yesterday that it was donating 5.7 million doses of Pfizer vaccine to South Africa through the COVAX program.
So far, only 1.6% of the continent’s population is fully vaccinated, 61 times less than high-income countries. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel on vaccine deliveries to Africa but it must not be snuffed out again. I urge all countries with surplus doses to urgently share more in the spirit of life-saving solidarity and enlightened self-interest, because no country is safe until all countries are safe,” she said, adding that African countries should step up their preparedness to receive and deploy the incoming doses.
More global headlines
- In an address to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, the two experts who led the independent panel that reviewed the world’s response to the pandemic and issued recommendations in May said the pandemic is an ongoing disaster that could have been averted. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s former president, and Helen Clark, New Zealand’s former prime minister, said geopolitical tensions and nationalism have weakened the multilateral system to keep the world safe. They called on the General Assembly to do more to back reforms and strengthen the world’s system for handling pandemic threats.
- China’s cases are at a 6-month high in the wake of an outbreak in Nanjing involving the Delta variant that has spread to 13 cities and 7 provinces, according to the Washington Post. Also, Beijing has reported its first case in nearly 6 months, according to CNN.
- In other Asian developments, Tokyo’s cases reached another daily high, with 3,865 new infections in the city that is currently hosting the Olympic summer games. Thailand reported another single-day high, amid reports of hospitals in Bangkok running out of beds, and Myanmar’s junta government has asked for outside help in battling its surge.
- In the Middle East, the Delta variant is fueling surges in a number of countries and has now been reported in 15 of the 22 nations, the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean office said today. The hardest hit countries so far include Iran, Iraq, Tunisia, and Libya, where some hospitals are reaching capacity and oxygen supplies are in short supply.
- In Australia’s New South Wales state, where the greater Sydney area is battling an outbreak, officials reported another daily record high, amid a report that the country has asked the military to help enforce the city’s lockdown, which was recently extended by 4 weeks.
- The global total today topped 196 million cases and is at 196,077,698 cases with at least 4,187,339 deaths, according to the New York Times