Israel Vaccinates More Than 10% of Its Population in Two Weeks -- Update
By Dov Lieber
TEL AVIV -- Israel has inoculated nearly half of its most
at-risk citizens and more than 10% of the population in two weeks
as authorities accelerate a Covid-19 vaccination drive after early
hiccups had led to wasted shots.
The small country -- with roughly nine million people, about the
same as New York City -- now aims to immunize the majority of its
people by early spring. Israel's vaccination campaign is relatively
simple compared with the mass mobilizations needed by countries
with many more people and a greater sweep of geography.
Israel started with vaccinating its health-care workers and
those over the age of 60 on Dec. 20 after receiving early shipments
of Pfizer Inc.'s vaccine. By Saturday, it had administered 12.59
doses per 100 of its people, according to the Oxford
University-based research group Our World In Data. That rate of
inoculation is nearly four times quicker than the second-fastest
nation, the tiny Arab Gulf state of Bahrain.
"The health system is proving itself," said Health Minister Yuli
Edelstein in an interview Thursday with The Wall Street Journal.
Israel boasts of a technologically advanced health-care system to
which everyone in the country is registered by law.
The rollout offers insights into how authorities are attempting
to maximize the campaign's coverage for the most vulnerable while
minimizing wastage of doses, which must be kept extraordinarily
cold to keep them from going bad.
After Israel was forced to dump hundreds of doses as
fewer-than-expected people turned up to be inoculated, authorities
cut back on the number of vials being dispatched to vaccination
centers and allowed anyone willing to get jabbed to jump the queue.
Those steps allowed Israel to quickly cut wastage and reach out to
more people, officials say.
Pfizer's vaccine, made with partner BioNTech SE, must be
administered within a five-day window after it leaves the main
storage center, and six hours once out of a fridge, according to
Israeli authorities, who say they are following Pfizer's rules.
To cope with that short shelf life and help authorities reach
less populated and isolated areas, Israel began splitting some of
Pfizer's 1,000-dose packages into smaller consignments of a few
hundred each. The system, in which workers repackage the vials in
workstations within massive freezers, was approved by Pfizer before
being implemented, Mr. Edelstein said.
Israel also enacted a policy that allows vaccine centers facing
soon-to-be wasted surplus to inoculate anyone who shows up. This
has led to scenes around the country of citizens both young and
middle-aged queuing up at vaccine centers, hoping to get an early
But by doing this, Israel also risks running out of its current
supply of vaccines before its most vulnerable are fully inoculated.
Israel has purchased 8 million doses from Pfizer, 6 million from
Moderna and 10 million from AstraZeneca, but it isn't clear when
the shipments will arrive. Vaccine makers say it takes two doses to
be fully effective.
Authorities by mid-January will also stop vaccinating new
patients for a two-week period. The current plan is that those
already vaccinated will begin receiving their second doses during
Israel's health minister defended the current plan as balancing
the needs of the most at-risk with the rest of the country.
"I don't think it would be the right decision...to give the
vaccine only to those eligible -- for example, 1,000 vaccines a day
with zero mistakes -- [but] then vaccinate the country in a year,"
Mr. Edelstein said. "Meanwhile, we would have people who will die
just because they didn't get the vaccine on time."
Israel is currently amid its third national lockdown to contain
a resurgence in Covid-19 cases -- one that health officials say
isn't working because there are too many exceptions.
The decision to impose the lockdown in late December came as new
daily infection rates reported in Israel reached more than 3,000.
They are now averaging more than 5,000 daily, with 50,299 active
cases in total.
In total, 3,391 Israelis have died from the virus, with a
mortality rate of 0.8%. Fatalities have steadily increased since
the start of December.
Write to Dov Lieber at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 03, 2021 14:06 ET (19:06 GMT)
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