Israel's prime minister on Thursday announced that the country would offer a coronavirus booster to people over 60 who have already been vaccinated.
The announcement by Naftali Bennett makes Israel, which launched one of the world's most successful vaccination drives early this year, the first country to offer a third dose of a Western vaccine to its citizens on a wide scale.
"I'm announcing this evening the beginning of the campaign to receive the booster vaccine, the third vaccine," Bennett said in a nationally televised address.
"Reality proves the vaccines are safe. Reality also proves the vaccines protects from severe morbidity and death. And like the flu vaccine that needs to be renewed from time to time, it is the same in this case."
The decision comes at a time of rising infections and signs that the vaccine's efficacy dwindles over time.
3rd shots available to public Sunday
Anyone over 60 who was vaccinated more than five months ago will be eligible.
Bennett said the country's president, Isaac Herzog, would be the first to get the booster on Friday. It will be offered to the general public on Sunday.
Bennett, who is 49, said his first call after the news conference would be to his mother to encourage her to get her booster shot.
Neither the U.S. nor the EU have approved coronavirus booster shots. It's not yet proven if a third dose helps and, if so, who needs one and when.
But Bennett said that a team of expert advisers had agreed overwhelmingly, by a 56-1 margin, that it made sense to launch the booster campaign.
He said the recommendation was made after "considerable research and analysis" and that its information would be shared around the world. Preliminary studies in Israel have indicated the vaccine's protection against serious illness dropped among those vaccinated in January.
Israel has used the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine on its population. Previously, boosters were used in some countries with the Chinese and Russian vaccines.
Nearly 6 in 10 have 2 shots
Early this year, Israel carried out one of the world's most aggressive and successful vaccination campaigns, reaching a deal with Pfizer to purchase enough vaccines for its population in exchange for sharing its data with the drug maker.
Over 57 per cent of the country's 9.3 million citizens have received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and over 80 per cent of the population over 40 is vaccinated.
The vaccination program allowed Israel to reopen its economy ahead of other countries.
But there are signs that the vaccine's efficacy wears off over time, and Israel has seen a spike in cases of the new delta variant, even among people who are vaccinated.
But Israel has seen a spike in cases of the new delta variant, even among people who are vaccinated. Bennett urged unvaccinated Israelis, especially younger people who have been hesitant, to get vaccinated immediately.