Israel's COVID-19 czar: Winter is coming, be prepared

The Health Ministry has purchased enough of the new Pfizer vaccine booster for all ages over 12 years, whether they are young or old, healthy or have chronic diseases.

 Kinesiologist Maria Luz Porra puts on a mask shield before checking patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in an intensive care unit of a hospital, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina October 16, 2020.  (photo credit: AGUSTIN MARCARIAN/REUTERS)
Kinesiologist Maria Luz Porra puts on a mask shield before checking patients suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in an intensive care unit of a hospital, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina October 16, 2020.
(photo credit: AGUSTIN MARCARIAN/REUTERS)

People with cars are annually urged to prepare them for the winter; I ask that Israelis prepare themselves for winter by getting influenza vaccinations and the new Omicron variant shots that are available from the health fund clinics, recommended Prof. Salman Zarka, the government’s project manager for COVID-19 in an online briefing. So far, 230,000 Israelis of all ages have already gone for their flu shot.

“The increase in the R-value showing how much the virus is spreading is down from last week,” he said. “We are keeping an eye on it.” But according to what has occurred in the Southern Hemisphere that is finishing up its winter, a combination of COVID-19 and the flu can be deadly, especially for people at high risk such as the elderly and those with chronic diseases, he added. 

“The more protected the public, the lower the risk of a new COVID-19 wave and the smaller the danger of hospitalization at death.”

Prof. Salman Zarka

The Health Ministry has purchased enough of the new Pfizer vaccine booster for all ages over 12 years, whether they are young or old, healthy or have chronic diseases. “It is meant as a booster for people who were previously vaccinated against the coronavirus or those who had been infected with it at least three months ago,” he said, “not for those who have not received any COVID-19 vaccinations or who have not been infected with the virus. “The new shot is based on the B4 and B5 variants that are now predominant in Israel and around the world. 

One can make an appointment with one’s health fund and get a flu shot and the new Omicron booster simultaneously, but in different arms, or one shot one day and the other shot another time. The new formulation has been proven to be safe and effective, with approval by the US Food and Drug Administration, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the British drug authority and Israel’s Health Ministry, he said. “It is very up to date.”

COVID-19 home test kits are pictured in a store window during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, January 19, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI/FILE PHOTO)COVID-19 home test kits are pictured in a store window during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, US, January 19, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/CARLO ALLEGRI/FILE PHOTO)

The ministry has arranged for the new shot to be given at geriatric facilities around the country to protect residents. “Families who visit, at home or in institutions, should perform a home antigen test before going there so as not to infect then.”

Additional recommended COVID precautions

Wearing a facemask is now recommended in all closed and crowded places, he continued, including synagogues, buses, trains, planes and more. “We must celebrate holidays as we did before the pandemic, but we must protect ourselves and our relatives and friends. Personal responsibility is key to getting through this. We in the Health Ministry will continue to explain and provide what is needed,” Zarka said. “The more protected the public, the lower the risk of a new COVID-19 wave and the smaller the danger of hospitalization at death.” 

The airing of rooms in school, synagogues and other closed spaces is recommended as it reduces infection, said the project manager. The Education Ministry and the local authorities have already installed 11,000 air filters in classrooms and will do more. 

“Families who visit, at home or in institutions, should perform a home antigen test before going there so as not to infect then.”

Israel Health Ministry

According to the latest ministry statistics, 1,171 Israelis were tested for COVID-19 and found infected on Tuesday and 7,811 in the past week; 88 are seriously ill in hospitals; and six died during the past week. A total of 11,681 Israelis have died of COVID-19 complications since the pandemic began.