WHO Official: Israel a ‘Trailblazer’ by Giving Early COVID Booster Shots

Israel’s COVID infection and hospitalization rates are steadily declining, but many people aren’t happy with how we got here

By Ryan Jones | | Topics: Coronavirus, Vaccine
An Israeli gets his COVID booster shot
Are Israelis right to be proud of their "pioneering" vaccine campaign?  Photo: Michael Giladi/Flash90

Israel is often hailed as a trailblazer in a number of fields. But its latest pioneering success might not be seen in such a positive light by some.

Dr. Dorit Nitzan is an Israeli physician. She is also Regional Emergency Director for the European Region at the World Health Organization (WHO). In remarks to the Ynet news portal this week, she praised Israel for administering a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to the general public when no other nation was doing so.

“Israel was right when it started giving the booster prior to FDA approval,” said Dr. Nitzan. “Israel was among the first to give the booster, and it is among the first to continue making progress. Israel is a pioneer, and that’s important.”

She wasn’t alone in that assessment. See: Fauci to Israel: You Did the Right Thing, US Also Needs Booster Shot

Ironically, it was the WHO that initially gave Israel such grief over rushing to administer COVID booster shots before there was any medical evidence that doing so would help curb rising infection rates.

“There’s no scientific evidence yet that we need to have a third dose,” stressed Mariangela Simao, the WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines, vaccines and pharmaceuticals. She said this back in August. At the time, Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s frontman on the coronavirus pandemic, slammed what he called the “disgraceful” behavior of Israel and a few other countries that were rolling out COVID booster shots to the general public.

To be clear, these experts weren’t saying that the booster shot was in any way dangerous, just that it might not be necessary, and that giving a third dose to already-vaccinated populations meant depleting vital supply for nation’s with low vaccination rates. See: WHO “Disgusted” by COVID Vaccine Policies of Israel, Other Wealthy Nations

But the Israeli government now feels some degree of vindication with both infection rates and the number of people hospitalized in serious condition falling steadily in recent weeks. According to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, that has everything to do with nearly half of all eligible Israelis (3.8 million) already receiving their third vaccine dose.

Even so, some Israelis aren’t happy with how we got here.

Bennett has been accused of engaging in “medical dictatorship” with his aggressive tactics aimed at compelling Israelis to get their booster shots. In addition to publicly “shaming” those who were wary of the third jab, and encouraging vaccinated Israelis to call out those who weren’t, Bennett and his government reimplemented a strict “green passport” system barring entry to many public venues to those who had not been fully vaccinated (three doses).

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This was particularly frustrating to Israelis who had previously been told that they were fully vaccinated with two doses, only to now be told their green passport would expire without a third. And this despite both the WHO and FDA saying that a third dose was likely unnecessary. See: Israel Versus the FDA: The Battle of the Booster Shot

Dr. Nitzan’s remarks notwithstanding, it’s probably still too early to fully pass judgment one way or another. Israeli officials like to issue statements early and often, even when the jury’s still out, so to speak. A little more time will tell if she’s right, and if Israel’s “trailblazing” behavior in this instance is something to emulate or eschew.

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