By Felicia Schwartz 

Israel has rolled out the fastest Covid-19 vaccination campaign in the world, inoculating nearly 20% of its population in three weeks. The small country -- with roughly nine million people, about the same as New York City -- now aims to inoculate the majority of its population by March.

While Israel's vaccination campaign is relatively simple compared with the mass mobilizations needed by countries such as the U.S. that have many more people spread over a greater sweep of geography, the effort offers some clear lessons.

Dispatch Smaller Vaccine Shipments

The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine must be administered within five days after it leaves the main storage center and within six hours after a diluent is added before five to six doses are extracted from a vial.

To cope with that short shelf life and to reach less-populated and isolated areas, Israel, with Pfizer's approval, devised a system to split the company's 1,000-dose packages into smaller batches of a few hundred each. Workers repackage the vials in workstations equipped with massive freezers.

Israel, like most other countries, is giving priority to medical professionals, people over 60 and those with high-risk conditions as vaccine recipients. But to make sure no vials are wasted, authorities are also allowing vaccine centers to dole out surplus doses to anyone who shows up.

Use Dedicated Vaccination Sites

Many of the vaccine sites are at large venues such as sports arenas or are being set up in tents inside cities, away from clinics and hospitals, allowing more people immediate access. These dedicated vaccination centers are staffed by doctors and nurses from public health-care providers, making staffing easier. Israel's four health maintenance organizations are also operating mobile vaccine stations and a drive-through site to increase access.

Refine Administrative Acts

Israel's health-care providers are reaching out early and often to those eligible to receive vaccines, via applications, text messages and websites.

Israel, which is providing the vaccine free of charge to everyone, is also developing a passport system that would allow those who have been vaccinated to show a certificate on their cellphone to avoid quarantining after travel and to access places such as event halls, arenas and restaurants.

Reach Out to Minority Groups

Ahead of the vaccine rollout, public-health officials lobbied the country's minority groups that would be less disposed to take the vaccine: the ultra-Orthodox and Israel's Arab population, which together make up about 33% of the population.

Public-health officials met with ultra-Orthodox rabbis and leaders in Arab communities to get them to back the vaccination campaign. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a special effort to visit Arab towns as part of his public-relations campaign.

Public-health officials traveled to ultra-Orthdox towns to meet with rabbis and dispatched Arabic speakers to Arab towns to meet with health professionals. They outlined all of the available information to indicate that the vaccine is safe and effective. They secured the sign-off of the ultra-Orthodox leadership, which issued a statement urging anyone who could to get the vaccine.

--Dov Lieber contributed to this article.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 10, 2021 14:49 ET (19:49 GMT)

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