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Israel to offer 4th vaccine dose to most vulnerable

Israel has approved a fourth vaccine dose for people most vulnerable to COVID-19, becoming the first country to do so as it braces for a wave of infections fueled by the omicron variant.

Nachman Ash, the director general of the Health Ministry, announced the decision at a press conference late on Thursday.

He says the decision is based on early research, and that officials will consider expanding the administration of a fourth dose to more of the public as they assess the situation.

A shipment of Pfizer's antiviral COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, sits on a pallet on arrival at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (AP PhotoMaya Alleruzzo)

Israel was among the first countries to roll out Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine a year ago and began freely offering boosters last summer. But it still saw a wave of infections blamed on the delta variant, and officials have warned of another driven by the fast-spreading omicron.

Earlier Thursday, Israel received its first shipment of pills that treat the worst effects of COVID-19.

It’s among of the first countries to receive Pfizer’s Paxlovid, a pill that can be taken at home to ward off the most severe symptoms of the coronavirus. All the previously authorized drugs require an IV or injection.

Journalists in reflective vests cover a shipment of Pfizer's antiviral COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid, on arrival at Ben Gurion International airport near Tel Aviv, Thursday, Dec. 30, 2021. (AP PhotoMaya Alleruzzo)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the shipment would help Israel to “successfully overcome the peak of the approaching omicron wave.”

Israeli media reported that the first shipment consists of 20,000 doses, with more expected as Pfizer ramps up production.

Israel currently has more than 20,000 active patients, including 94 who are seriously ill. At least 8,243 people have died from COVID-19 in Israel since the start of the pandemic.