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An Israeli hospital said Monday that preliminary research indicates that a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine provides only limited defense against the omicron variant that is causing a worldwide furor.

Last month, Sheba Hospital began administering a fourth vaccine to more than 270 medical workers, 154 who received a Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and another 120 who received Moderna’s. All had previously been vaccinated three times with the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine.

The clinical trial found that both groups showed “slightly higher” increases in antibodies than after the third vaccine last year. But he said the rise in antibodies did not prevent the spread of omicron.

“Despite increased antibody levels, the fourth vaccine only offers partial defense against the virus,” said Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, director of the hospital’s infectious disease unit.

“Vaccines, which were more effective against earlier variants, offer less protection against omicron.” The preliminary results raised questions about Israel’s decision to offer a second booster shot “and the fourth overall” to its population over 60 years of age.

The government says more than 500,000 people have received the second booster in recent weeks. Dr. Nahman Ash, director of Israel’s Health Ministry, said the research did not mean the fourth vaccine attempt was a mistake. “Return the antibody level to what it was at the start of the third boost. This is of great importance, especially among the older population,” he told Channel 13 TV.

But he said the investigation would be taken into account as authorities debate whether to expand the additional booster campaign to the general population.

Israel was one of the first countries last year to widely vaccinate its population and last summer became the first to offer a booster shot. The latest booster campaign for older Israelis is also believed to be the first of its kind in the world.

Israel’s aggressive vaccination efforts have failed to stop an outbreak of omicron in recent weeks. The variant has caused record infection levels and sent a growing number of people to hospital, although the number of seriously ill remains below previous waves.

It has also forced large numbers of Israelis into quarantine, putting schools and businesses to the test.

Omicron is already dominant in many countries and can also infect those who have been previously vaccinated or infected by earlier versions of the virus. However, early studies show that it is less likely to cause serious illness than the older delta variant. Vaccination and a booster still offer strong protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.

On Tuesday, the Israeli government said it was shortening the mandatory quarantine period from seven to five days to help keep the economy running.

“This decision will allow us to continue to safeguard public health on the one hand and keep the economy going at this time on the other, however difficult it may be, so that we can ride this wave safely,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. .

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