All but one of the Israelis who died from Covid-19 last week had not received a third vaccine dose, Bennett said on Sunday in a Twitter post. “In other words, the third vaccine is not a luxury. It really saves lives. Non-immunization for the third time leaves senior citizens in mortal danger.”
Israel’s government late last month made a controversial decision to begin offering vaccine booster shots to residents over the age of 60, despite pleas from the World Health Organization (WHO) for rich nations to refrain from administering third Covid-19 jabs at a time when many countries are still awaiting doses to start inoculating their people. Jerusalem doubled down on its third-dose push on Friday, expanding eligibility for boosters to residents over 50, as well as healthcare workers, prisoners and people with deficient immune systems.
Concerns over the potentially waning efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines has escalated in recent weeks, with rampant spread of the Delta variant of the virus in both vaccinated and fully inoculated populations. The US Federal Drug Administration on Thursday authorized third vaccine doses for immunocompromised Americans, and chief White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci has said that everyone will likely need booster shots at some point.
Bennett’s “mortal danger” comment took those fears to another level, drawing criticism from social media users. Author Alex Berenson, a former New York Times reporter who has spoken out against Covid-19 lockdowns, said there is no data showing that Covid-19 booster shots reduce infections, transmission of the virus, hospitalizations or deaths. In fact, some of the latest new Covid-19 infections in Israel – and at least one recent death – are among people who’d gotten a third jab.
“Note that he does not say how many of the 79 who died had received two doses,” Berenson said of Bennett. “You may be old enough to remember when that was considered fully vaccinated.” He quipped that Twitter may need to censor the prime minister for suggesting that two-dose inoculation doesn’t protect against Covid-19.
Many observers pointed out that seniors are always in “mortal danger.” “Aren’t we all, to one extent or another?” one Twitter user said. “To live is [to] risk illness and death. To avoid risk is not to live.”
Others argued that Bennett is grossly exaggerating the risks from Covid-19. “Mortal danger also means less than a 2% mortality rate if you actually ever get the CCP flu and don’t get early treatment,” one commenter said.
Bennett issued a similar warning on Friday, saying in an audio message on social media that even people as young as 50 are in “mortal danger” if they don’t get a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, said the statement was “either an admission that the vaccines suck over time or it’s disinformation against the first two shots.”
Bennett has come under political pressure because of a surge in Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations in Israel in recent weeks. There were reportedly 524 hospitalized Covid-19 patients in serious condition in Israeli hospitals as of Sunday, the first rise above 500 since March.
Israel was the first country in the world to offer Covid-19 booster shots. More than 860,000 people in the country, or 9.3% of the population, have received a third jab. Nearly 80% of Israelis who are eligible for vaccination have been inoculated.
The WHO earlier this month called for a moratorium on vaccine booster shots because of supply shortages around the world. “We continue to see a shocking disparity in the global distribution of vaccines and unequal access to life-saving tools,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in July. “This inequity has created a two-track pandemic.”
Most people in some of the world’s poorest nations will probably have to wait for another two years to receive their first vaccine shots to protect against the virus. Many countries in Africa, for instance, have vaccinated less than 1% of their populations. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, a nation of 87 million people, has delivered only about 86,000 doses.