A health worker prepares a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Ichilov medical center in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Aug 2, 2021. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)
As COVID-19 cases soar again in the United Kingdom, officials could look to a country that’s moved past a similar crisis for a possible roadmap.
The search for answers in Israel may be useful, health experts say, because both countries were among the fastest in the world with their vaccination programs, yet were similarly quick to lift lockdown restrictions.
And just as Israel experienced a spike in cases in June, so the UK is now, having just reported the biggest single daily jump in infections in three months.
Britain has a booster program that began in late September. It’s open to people 50 and older, and is focusing on the elderly in that age group, as well as other vulnerable people. In Israel, the rollout extended to people 12 and above within weeks of its Aug 1 launch
Israel’s response to its renewed outbreak was to roll out an aggressive booster program, a decision that appears to have quelled the worst of the outbreak within weeks.
And while there are too many other variables to draw hard-and-fast conclusions — from vaccine type and timings to age-group prioritizing, social-distancing rules and mask-wearing — it may offer one stand-out lesson for the UK: People should get their boosters.
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“Israel was the first country to have a mass vaccination campaign and it was the first to experience the full impact of waning immunity” and the mass susceptibility that followed, said Ran Balicer, the Tel Avi-based chairman of Israel’s national COVID-19 advisory team.
Other countries that vaccinated later will go through the same thing, “unless they use the lessons learned here and consider the booster campaign,” he said.
Britain has a booster program that began in late September. It’s open to people 50 and older, and is focusing on the elderly in that age group, as well as other vulnerable people. In Israel, the rollout extended to people 12 and above within weeks of its Aug 1 launch.
The surge in infections in the UK has left the country behind other major European nations, in terms of both case rate and deaths, according to Bloomberg’s tracker.
“We’re starting to see indications that hospitalizations and death rates are increasing,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters on Tuesday.
“Clearly we are keeping a very close eye on rising case rates. The most important message for the public to understand is the vital importance of the booster program.”
Last month, UK ministers unveiled a contingency plan if cases surge, including measures such as mandatory face masks, vaccine certificates and advice to work from home.
The National Health Service Confederation, which speaks for the health care system, has urged the government to enact that plan “without delay,” but on Wednesday, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Times Radio that the time hadn’t come for that.
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In Israel, officials are optimistic that they’re putting the delta wave behind. Serious coronavirus cases continue to drop now that almost 3.9 million people out of an eligible 5.2 million have received a third dose.
“It’s possible to say, cautiously, that we are quelling the fourth wave, the delta wave, but it’s not over until it’s over,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday.