Over Quarter of a Million Israelis Vaccinated as Netanyahu Sees End to Pandemic 'In Months'

The vaccine is currently available to medical staff and people over the age of 60

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Israelis receiving a vaccine against COVID-19, December 24, 2020
Israelis receiving a vaccine against COVID-19, December 24, 2020Credit: Hadas Prush
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

About a quarter of a million Israelis have received their first of two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine since the vaccination drive began last week. 

Dozens of inoculation centers operated over the weekend and tens of thousands of people came for their shots on Saturday as well. On Sunday morning, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said an additional 30,000 Israelis were vaccinated over the weekend, raising the number to 280,000 so far. 

The Clalit health maintenance organization, which insures about half of the population, had 23 inoculation centers open; by midday on Saturday, the total number of inoculations it administered since last Sunday had reached 116,000. According to one Clalit official, the number of people who came to be inoculated on Saturday was the same as on a regular weekday.

A Clalit official at the center operating in Tel Aviv’s Yad Eliyahu neighborhood said: “Many people are coming, some without appointments, and some who had a [later] appointment but decided to show up anyhow. We’re asking people not to come without appointments, but when possible, we receive them. Sometimes they call their relatives and they show up too. But in any case, it’s important to stress that we only inoculate people according to the criteria.”

The vaccine is currently available to medical staff and people over the age of 60.

The official added: “This is different than any other vaccination. We are very moved. Some people cry, because for them it’s what brings their life back. I see people who come from all over the country, even if they already have an appointment. They want to get it over with, they want to be protected.”

Prof. Ehud Davidson, CEO of Clalit, said vaccinations of its members were proceeding quickly and demand for appointments was high. “In light of the quick pace of vaccinations, we believe we’ll complete the shots for the 60 and above age group earlier than expected,” he said.

The Maccabi health maintenance organization said appointments for booster shots have been made for some 190,000 of its members.

The first week of the vaccinations was a kind of a trial run period. Now, as Israel enters its third lockdown, the operation will speed up. It has set the ambitious goal of 150,000 vaccinations per day – twice the previous goal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that he had spoken with the heads of the companies providing Israel with vaccines and told them: “Our goal is by the end of the coming week to reach 150,000 vaccinations a day.” He said he asked them “to keep up the supply of vaccines with the pace of the inoculations, and they said they thought they could do so.” The prime minister added: “This means that within 30 days from reaching this pace, we will have given 4.5 million inoculations. Because everyone needs two shots, in one month we will have inoculated 2.25 million people in Israel.”

Netanyahu said that when the first phase of vaccinations of people in the high risk group is completed, “within 30 days we’ll be able to get out of [the pandemic], open the economy and do things that no other country can do.”

The push to expand the operation beginning last week came from the HMOs, which said they would be able to open more inoculation centers. Among the larger HMOs, Clalit was to reach 40,000 shots a day and Maccabi, 25,000. Some also said they could inoculate the general public as well, beyond the criteria originally set.

Hospitals are also taking part in the operation. Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, for instance, announced that people over 60 could make appointments to be inoculated starting on Sunday. “The hospital can vaccinate thousands of people a day and we have room,” said Ichilov’s director, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, who invited people over 60 to book an appointment on the hospital’s website.

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer announced that it had opened an inoculation center that operates 24 hours a day, which would inoculate special populations. Holocaust survivors have their own inoculation station and receive their shot without an appointment. Sheba also invited cancer patients, people with blood disorders and patients in the care of a rehabilitation facility to come to its center.

The Israel Defense Forces Home Front Command has also opened a few centers, with stations for each of the HMOs.

All in all, a total of 200 inoculation centers are to be in operation over the coming week, some of which will work around the clock.

Vaccinations for residents and staff at nursing homes began slowly last week as a kind of pilot, during which the first 8,000 residents and staff received their shots. This week, the pace will pick up, and the plan is to deliver the first dose to the entire nursing home population – approximately 160,000 people – by the end of next week.

Between Friday and Saturday, 3,624 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Health Ministry reported. Over that same period, 17 people died from it, bringing the total number of the dead to 3,203. The number of seriously ill patients was listed as 561, of whom 136 were on ventilators. Between Friday and Saturday, 39,244 tests were done, of which 3.7 percent were positive for COVID-19.