Israel’s trailblazing move to offer third vaccine doses to its population will ultimately prove justified and eventually be adopted by the United States, US chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted in an interview with an Israeli broadcaster on Wednesday night.
Fauci said US officials are receiving information from Israel on the booster shot campaign, and there is particular interest in data on young people, especially those in the army.
Speaking to Army Radio, Fauci said that in his opinion, everyone inoculated with the Pfizer vaccine would ultimately require three doses. He also agreed that this would be the case for the US population even below age 65.
“I believe so,” he said, noting that he was speaking in his personal and professional opinion, and that the decision in the US to limit booster shots to those who were 65 and up or immunocompromised had been made by committees and advisory groups. “I think ultimately there will be enough data to show that Israel is doing the right thing.”
Fauci said that he takes “very seriously” the statistics coming out of Israel.
“So I am very favorably disposed to what the Israelis have done and we get a lot of good information from them,” he said.
Though Israel has been offering the third dose to all those over the age of 12 for months, the US Food and Drug Administration only last week approved the booster shot initially for people over 65, healthcare workers and those deemed to be at high risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.
Authorization for giving the third vaccine shot to the rest of the American population, and in particular young people, will only come when officials have assessed its safety.
But Fauci said he believes there will soon be “good safety data” on younger people receiving the third dose.
“That is why I am looking very closely when Israel gets its safety data from young individuals,” he said, noting that in particular the US would be looking at information on vaccination in the Israel Defense Forces.
Fauci said the FDA did not reject the Israeli data indicating waning immunity against infection among all age groups around six months after vaccination, but wanted more information.
“I think they were waiting for more data from multiple cohorts, particularly in the arena of younger individuals,” he said.
“There is a great concern about the benefit-to-risk ratio of younger individuals in the context of myocarditis,” Fauci said referring to inflammation of the heart muscles that has been found in a small number of those who were vaccinated.
“We know it is a very rare event and we know that the Israelis are starting to gather a considerable amount of data that in fact will give us good insight into the risk, particularly in the vaccination of young people in your military,” he said to the Israeli broadcaster.
Israel has made vaccination the central plank in its efforts to curb a major resurgence of virus infections after having reduced the daily caseload in June to barely more than a dozen.
While research suggests immunity levels in those who have been vaccinated wane over time — an effect that can be reversed by boosters — the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine “is still highly protective” against severe illness and death, even amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
On Thursday, Israel’s Health Ministry published figures showing there were 3,550 “cases” diagnosed the day before, the lowest mid-week count in nearly two weeks.
The number of serious “cases”, considered a key indicator of the virus outbreak, also dropped, to 639, the lowest level since August 20 when there were 618.
There were 48,621 active patients in the country, the data showed.
Of the country’s approximately 9.3 million citizens, 6,108,800 have had a least one vaccination shot, of which 5,632,689 have had the second and 3,326,167 have had three doses.
Since the start of the pandemic last year, 1,279,209 people in Israel were diagnosed with COVID-19, and there have been 7,734 deaths from the disease.
The numbers came as Israel emerges from the month-long festival period when officials feared cases would spike due to family gatherings and large prayer services in synagogues. However, the holidays have so far not interrupted a slight downward trend in virus spread over the past week.
Fauci was asked to give his opinion on the relationship between political leaders and health officials, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during his address to the UN General Assembly on Monday stressed that while doctors are important, “they cannot be the ones running the national initiative.” Bennett has reportedly clashed with health officials on some coronavirus issues, such as tightening restrictions on public gatherings and how to keep the school system running during the outbreak.
Fauci, referring only to the Washington administration, said he was comfortable with the idea of science being the “major determinant of what we do.”
Fauci also commented about his differences of opinion with former US president Donald Trump.
“I do not take any pleasure in contradicting the president of the United States,” he said. “But I had to make a disagreement in order to preserve my own integrity but also as my responsibility as a public health official. I did not enjoy having to speak against what the president was saying. Unfortunately, I had to do it.”
Fauci said that dealing with COVID has shown him that as “cunning” as the virus is, “we have within our grasp the capability of ending this if we get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated.”
He said the degree of divisiveness in the US on vaccination is “disturbing” and is often “dictated along ideological lines as opposed to making a pure public health decision.”
There is clear data that red states that voted for the former administration are very heavily weighted against vaccination while blue states are in favor of it, Fauci said.
Data also shows that states with lower vaccination levels are those with the highest rates of infection, he added.
The end of the pandemic is in sight, Fauci predicted, but he lamented the reluctance by so many to be inoculated.
“I see the end of it if we all pull together and recognize that the enemy is the virus and not each other. We are all in this together,” he said.
“It is unacceptable that in a country such as ours that we still have 70 million people who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not yet gotten vaccinated,” he said.
Agencies contributed to this report.
Header: An Israeli military medic gets vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus at the medical centre of Tzrifin military base in the Israeli town of Rishon Lezion on December 28, 2020. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)