Israel's Unvaccinated 'A Strain on Hospitals'; COVID Patients on Life Support Peak

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Inside a coronavirus ward at Beilinson Hospital, Petah Tikva, earlier this month.
Inside a coronavirus ward at Beilinson Hospital, Petah Tikva, earlier this month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Haaretz
Or Kashti

Unvaccinated Israelis are putting a strain on hospitals, Nachman Ash, the Health Ministry's coronavirus director-general said Thursday, as official figures showed that the 17 percent of eligible Israelis who have not received the vaccine account for 60 percent of coronavirus deaths in the past two weeks.

"Illness today is mainly among the unvaccinated, [and] they are straining the hospitals," Ash said. The strain is mainly felt by medical workers, he said – specifically, those working in emergency wards.

"We are still finding room for everyone, but if the numbers go up, difficult decisions will have to made, and we don't want to get to that point," Ash stated.

He noted in particular the number of ECMO machines – which replace the function of the heart and lungs in the most serious coronavirus cases – that are in use, warning that "it's very close to the limit of our capability." Ash said the Health Ministry would advise the coronavirus cabinet to limit attendance at large, crowded events, particularly sporting events, later on Thursday. 

Read more >> The One Thing Israel Must Do Now to Curb Its Raging COVID Pandemic ■ After Israel, FDA Clears COVID Booster Shot for Older, At-risk Americans ■ Bennett Wants to Keep Israel's Schools Open After Sukkot Despite COVID Spread

Anti-vaccine demonstrators near Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's home in Ra'anana, July.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

On Thursday, the number of those hospitalized in serious condition remained stable with 713 people, including 202 on ventilators – the highest figure since mid-March.

According to Health Ministry figures, 7,592 people have died of the coronavirus in Israel since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Health Ministry figures show that the 17 percent of eligible Israelis who are unvaccinated constitute 65 percent of active serious cases, 70 percent of new serious cases, and 63 percent of deaths this week. Among those under 60 years old, the unvaccinated account for 85 percent of serious cases. 

Thirty-nine COVID patients in Israel were connected to ECMO machines as of Wednesday. Most of the people attached to these machines are not elderly and suffering from a plethora of background illnesses – 29 of the 39 are between the ages of 40 and 60. Thirty-three are unvaccinated, with only four patients fully vaccinated.

Unvaccinated teachers barred from schools

Also Thursday, the Education Ministry instructed all directors and principals of educational institutions to refuse entry to teaching staff who do not present proof of immunity or a negative test. The letter sent to principals further said that any employees unwilling to cooperate are to be considered absent and therefore not get paid. Furthermore, they are not to be permitted to teach classes remotely. 

The letter also stipulated that teachers should inform their principals in advance about whether they are able to present a Green Pass or negative test, so that schools can prepare accordingly for the return of teaching staff as classes resume after the Sukkot holiday. 

According to the Education Ministry, around 300 teachers did not present proof of immunity or a negative test for the first day of school on September 1. The ministry estimates that the number of teachers who will be barred from schools under the new policy will range somewhere between the hundreds to the thousands, in the most extreme scenario—a gap that the ministry hopes to close by replacing teaching staff. Many of the teachers who refused to get vaccinated or tested teach in Israel's public schools, the ministry estimates.  

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday that the first days of October are expected to be “complicated” for the school system with the coronavirus still spreading, but he stressed that the government wants to keep schools open, so the economy can function and to prevent “raising a generation of zombies here.”

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry has announced that a coronavirus drug for patients in mild to moderate condition who are at high risk of deteriorating will now be provided through health maintenance organizations and not just in hospitals and nursing homes. HMOs will provide Regeneron Pharmaceuticals' REGEN-COV drug and each will set the criteria determining which patients are eligible to receive it. The Health Ministry has not yet set official protocol for using the drug, and the policy currently varies from hospital to hospital.

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