Israel reached on Monday the landmark figure of 5 million vaccinated with their first dose against coronavirus, around 54 percent of the population, less than three months after its pioneering vaccine drive began.
Out of the five million, around three and a half million people, 39 percent of Israel’s population, have been inoculated with both jabs, and have therefore received the so-called "green pass" – a document issued one week after the second dose of the vaccine allowing the recipient to access venues such as theaters and gyms.
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Over 98 percent who received the first dose have received their second dose within 25 days of the first injection, but 1.9 percent have refused to get the second dose without justification.
Despite the high rates of vaccination in Israel, and the declining rate of infection and seriously ill patients, the Health Ministry is wielding the promise of a return to normality to push more Israelis to its vaccination centers.
The remaining 1.3 million individuals eligible to be inocluated, including 11 percent of Israelis over 50 – some 280,000 people – are now the priority. There are still about 4 million Israelis, the vast majority of which are children under 16, who can't get vaccinated at all at this point, as clinical trials are still ongoing.
There is a broad feeling among the general public that pressure is being ramped up for Israelis to receive the vaccine. On top of the incentive of the "green pass," the Health Ministry is investing in a massive public relations and information campaign, and has also upped its efforts in its campaign in Arab towns and the periphery. The general public, too, is serving this goal, with employers and many organizations pushing their employees to vaccinate.
On a second front, the Health Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office are insisting that providing information on those who have received the vaccinated – and those who refuse to – is critical.
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In a response submitted by the government in a lawsuit against the amendments to legislation promoted by the Health Ministry, the state said that in spite of the number of people vaccinated, the Health Ministry’s position is there is still a significant gap between the number vaccinated and the number needed to protect the entire population, in part because it is not yet possible to vaccinate children under 16. As a result, the government told the court that Health Ministry professionals believe that Israel must reach a target of vaccinating 90 percent of the eligible population in order to prevent a wave of infection after the restrictions on the economy were lifted.
On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu marked the milestone figure with a ceremony in the vaccination center at the Expo compound in Tel Aviv. Janet Lavi Azoulai, a 34-year-old pregnant woman, held up a sign for the photo-op saying: “I’m the 5th million person vaccinated.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who was also present, repeated the promise: “If you follow the instructions, we will be able to celebrate Passover together.”
Amid the fanfare surrounding the high levels of vaccination, Israel is facing a renewed threat from coronavirus variants. The question of the effectiveness of the vaccines against the variants looms large, with studies focussing on the South African variant, which has already made significant headway in Israel.