The Israeli military said on Thursday that 81 percent of soldiers have either been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recovered from the virus, adding it will resume operational and training routine.
The Israel Defense Forces expects that number to rise to 85 percent by next week. The IDF is also vaccinating troops who have recovered from the virus to ensure all soldiers will be inoculated.
In recent weeks, the military made the vaccine drive its top priority, with 22 vaccination centers opened on bases and the mobilization of additional medical personnel to inoculate larger units on site. Despite the complexity of the logistical operation, specifically due to the fact the Pfizer vaccines have to be stored at very low temperatures, military sources said not a single vaccine dose had been discarded through the process.
About eight percent of soldiers have not been vaccinated, some for medical reasons, some of them women at various stages of pregnancy and others who have refused to be vaccinated. The percentage of troops unvaccinated in combat and intelligence units is lower.
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The military did not provide a breakdown of how many soldiers had been vaccinated and how many recovered. Recovering from the illness is thought to provide strong protection against the virus. The discovery last month that two Israelis who had recovered from the illness had been reinfected by the new South African strain has led to discussions about whether recovered patients should also be vaccinated.
Prof. Alon Galzberg, the army’s surgeon-general, said the IDF is “the first army in the world to achieve herd immunity in confronting the coronavirus pandemic.” In a briefing to reporters, he said: “We taught the paramedics to carry out the mission. We succeeded in using all the vaccines that we received from the civilian health care system.”
The IDF is now preparing to lift restrictions placed during the pandemic. “This allows us to resume the routine of training and operations as in the past,” Brig. Gen. Galzberg said, adding that at this point “we will still need to stick to the rules of distancing and wearing masks in certain settings.”
Gen. Itzik Turgeman, head of the technology and logistics branch, said that “even during the coronavirus pandemic and the inoculation campaign the IDF kept up its operational capabilities and we continue to function fully. This is a significant achievement.”
The next issue the IDF will have to face in managing the pandemic is conscription. “We are aware that we will have to vaccinate a large number of new recruits,” Galzberg said. A decision has been made to inoculate fresh arrivals when they begin basic training, rather than the very day that they are drafted. The decision is due to medical studies about the effects of getting a number of vaccines at the same time.
The reserve forces are also expected to soon go back to routine, based on the understanding that most reservists have already been vaccinated. Those who have not received the jabs may still be called up to serve, and will not be required to take the vaccine, although the IDF says that decision might be subject to change at a later time.