Israel confident it can complete vaccinations by the end of March

What happened: On Sunday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein welcomed the arrival of an El Al cargo flight from Belgium with another 700,000 COVID-19 vaccines, manufactured by Pfizer.

  • Netanyahu said: “This is a huge day for the State of Israel. We are making a dream come true. Today more than 72 per cent of citizens aged 60 and over have been vaccinated, and we will vaccinate all of them. Another huge shipment will arrive next Sunday, and we will begin vaccinating the next group — people aged 50 to 60, and so we will advance, at a pace of 170,000 vaccinations a day. This is a world record. We will be the first country to emerge from the coronavirus health crisis and from the coronavirus economic crisis. This is plane full of encouragement vaccines, a plane with a dream — of emerging from the pandemic, from darkness to great light.”
  • Israel is now planning to increase the pace of vaccinations to 170,000 a day.
  • Health Minister Edelstein and senior officials from his ministry are also exploring the possibility of vaccinating during the night in order to minimise overcrowding at the vaccination stations.
  • Teaching staff are now eligible to be vaccinated. The priority will be teachers who continue to work during the lockdown, including teachers of special-education, youth at risk and at boarding schools for youth at risk. Preschool teaching staff will begin to receive vaccines in a few days.
  • Hospitals have also begun to administer second doses to their staff. 49,897 Israelis received their second jab yesterday.
  • Israel remains under a tight lockdown since Friday, with police checking cars across the country and fining those who have strayed beyond 1 km from their homes without good reason.
  • For the first time the Health Ministry is reporting more than 1,000 patients in serious condition. As of this morning, there are 1,044 cases, of whom 251 are on ventilators. The infection rate has spiked to 7.4 per cent, with 6,706 people tested positive on Sunday after more than 91,000 tests had been conducted.
  • Another 22 patients passed away on Sunday, bringing the official death toll to 3,671.
  • Yesterday the Palestinian Authority said it expects to receive the vaccine in March following an agreement with AstraZeneca.

Context: So far 1.8 million Israelis have been vaccinated, accounting for around 20 per cent of its total population.

  • Despite the rise in new cases, Coronavirus Commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said that the tightened restrictions for the third closure have already made a positive impact on the country’s rate of infection.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu has taken personal charge of the vaccinations, having cultivated a personal relationship Pfizer Chairman and CEO Albert Bourla.
  • Israel has now agreed that Pfizer will bring in regular weekly instalments of the vaccine that will allow for every Israeli to be vaccinated by the end of the March.
  • The incentive for Pfizer is that Israel has agreed to share its vaccination data with the pharmaceutical company, which will hopefully allow them to show Israel as a successful test case for beating the virus.  Haaretz health correspondent Ido Efrati explains, “For Pfizer, statistics on vaccination in Israel, which has a very diverse population, could provide crucial data on the impact of the vaccine on groups and subgroups that could not have been studied during the company’s trials.”
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu is keen to be seen delivering the vaccinations as it is expected to be a significant part of his re-election campaign.
  • Israel has faced some criticism for not sharing vaccinations with the Palestinians. However, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the healthcare of its own population and has repeatedly confirmed it is obtaining its own vaccines via the UN.

Looking forward: The Health Ministry will consider easing the lockdown in another two weeks if the infection rate continues to drop. It will also take into account the progress in the vaccination campaign.

  • According to Prof Ash, “We have not yet set a target date for the end of the closure, which is set for two weeks and is supposed to end on the night between January 22 and 23.”
  • The government’s target of vaccinating all over 16s by the end of March coincides with election day on March 23.

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