Israel launches new Omicron-tailored COVID-19 vaccines

TEL AVIV, Israel – Israel on Thursday began administering doses of coronavirus vaccines tailored to fight the highly contagious omicron variant, as health authorities urged at-risk groups and people over 65 to get vaccinated.

The introduction of the new vaccine follows Israel’s world-leading effort to vaccinate its population in early 2021. Health officials are now expressing growing concern about an increase in COVID-19 infections in the coming winter.

Arsen Arutiunian, an official at Israeli healthcare provider Clalit, said there has been “high demand” for the booster since the new campaign began. She said the clinic has been inundated with phone calls from people of all ages wanting to make an appointment.

“I received all the previous vaccinations. So far, touch wood, I have not been infected, although my whole family has somehow become Teflon. And as they say, keep healthy,” said Tel Aviv resident Eytan Gurfinkel.

As of Thursday, 95 people were hospitalized with severe cases of the coronavirus, the lowest point since May. More than 11,600 Israelis have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, according to Health Ministry statistics.

Israel led the world in vaccinating its population of 9.5 million against the coronavirus last year after it struck a deal with Pfizer to exchange vaccines for medical records. By fall of last year, it quickly vaccinated over 60% of its population with at least two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

More than 4.5 million Israelis have received the third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, but just over 800,000 have had the fourth.

In August, the FDA approved updated COVID boosters that target the omicron strain, and U.S. health officials are set to begin deployment this fall.