December 12, 2020 may well be remembered as a milestone in the history of the coronavirus pandemic. On that day, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval to Pfizer's COVID vaccine to be administered to those 16 and older. It was the first vaccine approved by U.S. regulators.
Israel's vaccination campaign began a week later, just as what was initially dubbed the U.K. variant – later relabeled alpha – was starting to spread. Israel’s rapid purchase of vaccines and its robust public health system allowed it to embark on an aggressive campaign to put shots into arms.
Since then, some 6.5 million Israelis have gotten at least one dose, 5.8 million of them have received a second one, and 4.1 million have received a booster shot. Nevertheless, the first year of vaccination has presented the government with no small number of challenges. A constantly changing situation and the emergence of new variants have shown how complicated it is to vaccinate a population and just how stubborn the virus is.
It's difficult to imagine what this year would have looked like without the coronavirus vaccine, but the future is also unclear. What new variants might emerge? Can the vaccines overcome them? What will the vaccination routine look like? How high is the price we’re going to pay?
On the night of Saturday, December 19, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived at Sheba Medical Center with his health minister, Yuli Edelstein. They became the first two people in Israel to be given the Pfizer vaccine. “This is a small shot for a man and a big step for the health of all of us,” Netanyahu said, paraphrasing Neil Armstrong.
The vaccination campaign got underway the next day. At first, the vaccines were given to medical staff, people aged 60 and the immunocompromised. The first days of the drive saw other high-profile vaccinations – then-President Reuven Rivlin, military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and senior healthcare officials – with the aim of encouraging the public to get a shot. At the time, the number of new confirmed daily cases was running at more than 3,000, mainly driven by the arrival of the alpha variant. That variant was 60 percent more contagious than the initial form of the virus. It took several weeks to determine the effect of the vaccines