Facing a Shortage? Israel Considers Limiting Vaccines to Single Dose

YERUSHALAYIM -
Vials of vaccinations against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and syringes are seen as Israel continues its national vaccination drive, during a third national COVID lockdown, at a Maccabi Health  Care Services branch in Ashdod, last week. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

The Health Ministry is considering limiting coronavirus vaccines to one dose per person in Israel, as opposed to the two that the pharmaceutical companies say is necessary for immunization, Yediot Acharonot reported.

The idea was proposed by the departing deputy director-general of the ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto, who is due to step down at the end of the month.

Grotto’s proposal followed a warning from Health Minister Yuli Edelstein last week that high demand for vaccines and the smooth roll out of the vaccination campaign in Israel would mean a temporary shortage in the Pfizer drug, which is the only one currently being used in Israel.

Edelstein promised however that those who had already received the first dose would receive the second on schedule.

Grotto said that he was basing his suggestion on a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggested that there is 80% efficacy after one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, although it is unknown how long immunity to the virus would last.

The same data, however, also appeared to suggest that the first dose of the vaccine was only 52% effective in the period between the first and second doses.

“A second dose of the vaccine would increase its efficacy to 94%,” Grotto said, “but if there is a shortage of doses, it may be wise to follow the British example and reach as many people as possible among the vulnerable population with one dose.”

He said that he does not claim this is the safest policy but it merited serious consideration.

The U.K. announced on Tuesday that it would focus on giving as many people as possible a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and delay administering a second one.

The controversial idea raised the ire of some infectious disease experts.

Prof. Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Department at the Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, said that the Pfizer trial showed that two doses delivered three weeks apart was needed to ensure immunity to COVID-19.

“We are in the midst of an outbreak and cannot afford to experiment on people,” she said. “If we were to give just one dose, it would be as if we have done nothing,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry on Sunday said that 3,977 new coronavirus cases were confirmed on Shabbos. After 76,071 tests conducted, the positivity rate was 5.1%.

There are currently 729 people in serious condition being treated in hospitals with 179 of them on ventilators.

Since the start of the pandemic, 3,391 people have succumbed to the virus.