Israeli study shows 4th vaccine boosts antibodies fivefold as infections soar

Israel tops 10,000 new cases as over 100,000 individuals receive fourth shot or book appointment.

 Israelis receiving their fourth coronavirus vaccine, January 3, 2022. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Israelis receiving their fourth coronavirus vaccine, January 3, 2022.

The fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine boosts antibodies fivefold a week after the shot is administered, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Tuesday, citing preliminary findings of an Israeli study.

Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, who is leading the study at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, told Bennett the fivefold increase in antibodies indicates that the vaccine works and provides protection against serious complications. In addition, the new booster appears to have a safety profile similar to the previous ones, she said.

“The State of Israel not only protects its own people and its own citizens, the State of Israel is truly at the forefront of research on the issue of COVID-19, ‘For out of Zion shall the Torah come forth,’” Bennett said on a visit to Sheba Medical Center on Tuesday. “For out of Sheba shall the Torah come forth. From here, we are studying the data and giving it to the whole world and through your dedicated work saving lives, no less.”

The level of breakthrough infections was one of the reasons the Health Ministry on Sunday approved an additional shot for the over-60 population.

More than 100,000 people either received or booked getting the new vaccine on Monday, which marked the first day of the campaign.

 People shop at the Hadar Shopping mall in Jerusalem on December 16, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) People shop at the Hadar Shopping mall in Jerusalem on December 16, 2021. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

“It is very exciting for me to be here and get the fourth shot, the second booster,” said Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, who was inoculated Tuesday morning. “This is a very, very contagious variant, as we see. Morbidity rises and surges every day. The best answer is the vaccine.”

Ash approved the fourth vaccine almost two weeks after the Pandemic Response Committee recommended the move.

“We discussed a lot about the fourth vaccine,” he said. “It took a few days to approve it, but now that we did, we are sure that it will help us as individuals to deal with the disease and help us as a country to deal with the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, morbidity in Israel has been soaring.

There were 10,720 new coronavirus cases on Monday, an increase of more than 4,000 infections over the previous day, the Health Ministry reported Tuesday.

The figure is nearing the country’s all-time daily record of 11,333, recorded on September 2, and is expected to surpass that within a day or two.

The R number, representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects, climbed to 1.91.

There were 46,455 active cases reported, up from about 8,000 two weeks ago, the Health Ministry reported. There were 236 people hospitalized for COVID complications, including 117 who were in serious condition.

That figure marked a significant rise compared with the previous Tuesday, when they were 85 in serious condition. Eighty-five of the patients currently in serious condition are not vaccinated. Eight were vaccinated more than six months ago, and the rest had received a booster.

The positive test rate also continued to climb, with 5.51% of the 197,614 tests performed on Monday coming back positive.

The national death toll stood at 8,247.

The surge in cases caused by the highly infectious Omicron variant has been faster than any previous outbreak. There were fewer than 3,000 cases the previous Monday and about 1,300 on the Monday before that. Overall, almost 40,000 new virus carriers were identified in the past week, marking a 240% increase compared with the previous seven days.

“The wave now is really increasing, and we expect to have tens of thousands of verified cases in the next few days,” Bennett said during his visit at Sheba. “The good news is that the vaccines work, so anyone who gets vaccinated and properly wears a mask will probably not get seriously ill, and it will pass in a few days.

“Hospitals and HMOs across the country are preparing both for moderate and severe scenarios. We, the government of Israel, are doing everything in our power to meet our goal of maintaining the routine of the Israeli economy as much as possible, while protecting our society’s most vulnerable.”

The Health Ministry said 24,600 people have received their fourth shot, after Israel began distributing extra boosters to its elderly population and health workers.

The government is set to change the testing policies in the coming days to allow a larger use of the antigen tests and solve the problem of overcrowding at the testing stations.

Sheba will also kick off a trial on Wednesday to test a fourth shot of the Moderna vaccine, which will be administered to another group of 150 healthy medical staff.

Sheba launched its clinical trial to examine the safety and efficacy of a fourth Pfizer shot on December 27, administering the inoculation to 150 healthy staff members who had been boosted at least four months earlier. All of them had a serological result below 700, suggesting that they were no longer considered to have enough antibodies to protect them against the virus.