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Israeli president Isaac Herzog received a third shot of coronavirus vaccine today, kicking off a campaign to give booster doses to people aged over 60 amid waning efficacy of the jabs and a push by Pfizer to encourage use of booster shots.

Herzog, 60, received a booster dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

He said he was proud to launch the booster vaccination initiative “which is so vital to enable normal circumstances of life as much as possible in this very challenging pandemic”. Herzog’s wife Michal also received a shot.

The couple were accompanied by prime minister Naftali Bennett, who urged the importance of booster shots in fighting the pandemic and pledged that Israel would share all the information it gleans from the public inoculation rollout — which in large part represents a medical trial due to a relative absence of evidence on the efficacy and safety of boosters.

“Israel is a pioneer in going ahead with the third dose for older people of the age of 60 and above. The fight against the Covid pandemic is a global fight. The only way we can defeat Covid is together,” Bennett said.

Israeli president Isaac Herzog receives a third dose of Covid-19 vaccine on Friday.

Israeli president Isaac Herzog receives a third dose of Covid-19 vaccine on Friday. Photograph: Reuters

On the eve of the booster rollout Bennett said Israel had already given 2,000 immunosuppressed people a third dose with no immediate severe adverse events. His government hopes that stepped up inoculation efforts will help avoid further lockdowns.

The campaign will in effect turn Israel into a testing ground for the companies’ booster, Reuters reports, which is likely to seek approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The efficacy of the jab developed with BioNTech fell from 96% to 84% over six months, according to a preprint not yet peer-reviewed released this week based on company data.

The World Health Organization said earlier this month it is not clear whether Covid-19 booster vaccines would be useful to maintain protection against the virus, due to an absence of trial data, but that it would monitor emerging research.

Israel was a world leader in the vaccination rollout, and around 57% of the 9.3m population has been double-vaccinated, rising to 87% of people in their sixties and more than 90% of those over 70.

Daily new infections have spiked to more than 2,000, up from a handful of cases per day a few months ago and about 160 people are currently hospitalised with severe symptoms. More than 6,400 people have died from the virus, though Reuters did not report what proportion of these were excess deaths.