Israeli research on fourth COVID-19 vaccine blocked

Sheba applied for approval for the fourth shot trial from the Health Ministry’s Helsinki Committee but the request has still not been approved.

 A photo illustration showing ampoules of Covid-19 vaccine for children at a Clallit vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
A photo illustration showing ampoules of Covid-19 vaccine for children at a Clallit vaccine center in Jerusalem on November 28, 2021.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Research on administering a fourth COVID-19 vaccine has been stalled and might not move forward at all, a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer has said.

The hospital applied for approval for the fourth shot trial from the Health Ministry’s Helsinki Committee but the request has still not been approved.

“As the fourth vaccine has now become a national and not an experimental research project, there will not be a formal press conference at Sheba,” the hospital’s English-language spokesperson said via WhatsApp on Thursday, canceling a potential event to kick-off the trial that he had mentioned earlier.

Already on Sunday, the spokesperson had told the press that the “initiative to start the fourth vaccination research project with medical personnel has been postponed until further notice. I will update when we move forward.”

The country’s Pandemic Response Team and COVID-19 Vaccination Advisory Board recommended Tuesday night that Israel administer a fourth shot to those most at risk, including people who are immunocompromised, the eldery and medical workers. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told KAN News that the campaign would start Sunday, although Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash had not yet approved the decision nor issued a formal decree as to how the campaign will run.

 PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett on his way to a cabinet meeting.  (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett on his way to a cabinet meeting. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also immediately celebrated the decision and called on health funds and the Home Front Command to prepare for the campaign.

Reports late Thursday night indicated that the fourth shot might not be approved by Ash at all because of new data showing that the Omicron variant causes less severe disease and hospitalization. 

Studies coming out of both the United Kingdom and South Africa have now found that individuals who contract the variant are anywhere between 20% and 80% less likely to end up in visiting or staying overnight in the hospital. 

The Jerusalem Post first reported on the expected trial on December 15. The hospital had told the Post that the trial was meant to determine the benefits of receiving a fourth dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

The trial would run under the guidance of Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at the hospital, and would look to see how much an additional COVID shot raises a person’s antibody levels.

The volunteers, likely hospital workers who are already part of an ongoing antibody study at Sheba, would be tested several times before and after the fourth dose. The exact number of participants had not yet been determined.

The Sheba spokesperson had said on Thursday that the hospital would “be starting to vaccinate personnel on Sunday within the realm of government parameters” although, as noted, those parameters are still unknown.