COVID in Israel: Number of Unvaccinated Getting Their First Shot Triples

Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol
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A container of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
A container of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.Credit: SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP
Samuel Sokol is a freelance journalist based in Jerusalem. He was previously a correspondent at the Jerusalem Post and has reported for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the Israel Broadcasting Authority and the Times of Israel. He is the author of Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews.
Sam Sokol

Headlines out of Israel in recent days have focused on the country's world-first campaign to offer booster shots to its population. But at the same time, another significant development is taking place, as the number of Israelis getting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has tripled since the beginning of August. Nearly 10,000 Israelis received their first shot on Sunday alone.

According to Health Ministry data, the number of people opting for their first dose of the vaccine dropped off significantly over the summer as increasing numbers of Israelis became inoculated (with the exception of a brief spike in early June).

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There has been a modest increase among COVID vaccination holdouts since then, with the trend starting at the start of this month: 115,463 previously unvaccinated people received their first shot by Monday. The number of first doses administered per day has risen from 3,023 on August 1 to 9,923 on Sunday.

So far, 5,900,077 Israelis have received one dose of the vaccine, and of those 5,445,567 have received two doses. Of them, 1,482,503 have also received a third booster shot, which was authorized at the end of July for older age groups.

Last Thursday, the number of Israelis receiving their first shot topped 10,000. According to data obtained by news site Ynet, the numbers skewed young, with around half of those vaccinated that day being between the ages of 12 and 15.

While the numbers indicate that the number of people lining up for their first COVID shot is on the rise, it is still not fully clear why they are doing so now.

“There is no breakdown as to who these people are,” said Prof. Eyal Leshem, director of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Diseases at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer. He explained that the Health Ministry has not released data detailing demographic factors such as age or which communities the newly vaccinated belong to.

While increased access to vaccination centers, the government’s public outreach efforts, the reimposition of public health measures such as the Green Pass and the start of the new school year are all potential factors that could help explain the increase, it’s hard to know how much of a role each specifically played.

Noting that only 41.6 percent of children aged 12 to 15 had received the first shot, Leshem said it was “possible that this age group is now represented in those getting their first dose, but this is an assumption or guess not based on data.”

He added: “It would be interesting to see which of these [factors] was the most effective intervention, but we don’t have that data.”

A medic preparing a COVID vaccine shot in Jerusalem, on Sunday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

According to Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, and chair of the Association of Public Health Physicians in Israel, improved access to vaccines and more targeted community outreach both likely played a role in the vaccination uptick.

Public health officials are “working with specific subgroups, including within Arab society – like young Bedouin in the Negev – instead of just speaking about Arabs in general,” he said. “It’s the same with Haredim and Russian speakers.”

Public vaccination events held during evening hours have also contributed by creating a “vaccination vibe,” Davidovitch said, adding that engagement in vaccination efforts by local municipalities and schools ahead of the academic year was also a factor.

The increase was “a good sign,” said Prof. Diane Levin-Zamir, who heads the Department of Health Promotion at Clalit Health Services. She noted that it could be attributed, in part, to efforts to reach out to people who, while not opposed to vaccinations per se, have been waiting to get inoculated.

Part of the increase could also potentially be attributed to students getting vaccinated prior to the new school year, creating a ripple effect among their parents and families, Levin-Zamir said.

“We’re going to keep on this, [as will] the Health Ministry,” she added. “Everybody is interested in getting those who didn’t get their first dose to get their first vaccination, and make sure not to leave anybody behind.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett believes that accelerating the country’s vaccination campaign is critical to preventing another national lockdown and “destroying the country’s future.” He recently instructed the directors of Israel’s four health maintenance organizations to double their vaccination rates.

Last week, the government announced that it would expand its night vaccination campaign to cities across the country, following a successful pilot in Tel Aviv in which hundreds of people, ranging in age from 12 to 90, were vaccinated in Dizengoff Square.

These included younger people receiving their first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, as well those over 50 receiving a booster shot.

Asked how consequential the recent increase has been, Davidovitch said that more still needed to be done. “It’s significant but it’s not enough, because we still have large groups who are not vaccinated, and because of the delta variant we see that community transmission is still high.”

According to Health Ministry data released on Monday, around 1,080,000 eligible Israelis remain unvaccinated.

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