Israel Starts Its Coronavirus Vaccinations Sunday: Who Gets It, and When?

Medical staff and people aged 60 and up will be first to receive the coronavirus vaccine as HMOs ready to roll out mass inoculation campaign

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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Netanyahu injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine live on TV at the Sheba Medical Cente inTel Hashomer, December 19, 2020.
Netanyahu injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine live on TV at the Sheba Medical Cente in Tel Hashomer, December 19, 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel's nationwide COVID-19 vaccination campaign is set to begin this week. On Sunday, health care workers in health maintenance organizations and hospitals will be first to receive the vaccine, and the general public will be able to be inoculated through their HMOs on Monday.

Vaccinations in HMOs will be starting two days ahead of schedule, and will be given out in order of priority: The first to receive the shot will be members over age 60.

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Israel now has an estimated 500,000–600,000 doses of vaccine, and additional batches are arriving every few days. At this point, the Health Ministry doesn't foresee any problems regarding the pacing of these deliveries.

What about health care workers?

On Sunday, Israel will start inoculating medical staff at hospitals At this stage, hospitals have been allocated a limited number of vaccines – between hundreds and thousands for each institution, depending on its size – and staff are required to actively sign up to be inoculated.

Haaretz found that in a number of medical centers throughout the country, health care workers are relatively highly receptive to being vaccinated, and hospitals are reporting the same. At a few hospitals, workers reserved all the available doses within just a few hours of registration opening. Some hospitals have even requested additional doses.

Hospital and HMO directors announced that they would take the vaccine first and invited the media to film it, in the hope that it will encourage their teams and the public to follow suit. Some doctors told Haaretz that they've seen a positive change regarding the vaccine; in the past, some of their medical teams have been hesitant about being inoculated.

Who gets the vaccine next?

After health care workers, including first responders, and people aged 60 and older, the next population to receive the vaccine will be people in high-risk groups. According to a Health Ministry statement released earlier this week, the group includes people with diabetes, morbid obesity, a suppressed immune system and other health issues that increase the risk of COVID-19 mortality.

The next group to be inoculated is those at high risk of being exposed to the coronavirus, including teachers, social workers, prisoners and prison guards. After them, IDF soldiers and security personnel will be vaccinated in accordance with a plan that will be submitted to the Health Ministry, and then the entire population, subject to HMO schedules.

Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in refrigerated storage at Teva Pharmaceuticals in Shoham, December 13, 2020.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

Children under age 16, people who are recovering from the coronavirus, pregnant and breastfeeding women and people with severe allergies will not be receiving the vaccine at this time.

How do I know when it's my turn to get vaccinated?

Those who are not a healthcare professional or younger than 60 years of age cannot vaccinate yet. The speed at which the vaccinations arrive to Israel will determine the pace at which the general population could receive the vaccines.

Do I make an appointment to get vaccinated, or do I just need to wait for them to call me?

Health Maintenance Organizations are sending out text messages to members that are entitled to get the vaccine. The message invites them to make an appointment to get vaccinated at the HMOs.  The appointment must be made online or on the HMO's application, so the process requires the patient to play an active role in the process. This text message method applies to all HMOs and since two injections are required, an appointment must be arranged for both times.

Do I get to choose which vaccine I will get?

At this stage no, since Israel currently just has vaccines manufactured by Pfizer. When Israel approves the use of different vaccines against the coronavirus, such as Moderna, information will be distributed to the public and those getting vaccinated will know exactly which vaccine will be given to them. Anyhow, in the future there likely won't be a way to choose which vaccine you get.

Do I need to sign an agreement before I get vaccinated?

Yes. Every person that receives the vaccine in Israel will fill out a medical questionnaire and will be required to sign it. The questionnaire will ask about age, and will ask about previous reactions to vaccinations, as well as any additional allergies to certain foods.

When do I set a second appointment for the second dose?

At most of the HMOs, you will be asked to make your second appointment at the time you make your first. In some instances, you will only be required to book your second appointment upon receiving the first vaccine.

Do people vaccinated against the coronavirus have to self-isolated after travelling or exposure to a coronavirus patient?

Israel's Health Ministry is planning to issue a card or a passport to those who received the coronavirus vaccine, which would exempt those who received the two vaccines from self-isolation after travelling or following exposure to a coronavirus patient. If these 'green passports' are indeed issued, which hasn't been approved. Those who have a 'green passport' will also be exempted from coronavirus tests when entering 'green islands.'

When will those who received two vaccines receive the 'green passport?'

If green passports are issued, the Health Ministry is planning that they will be distributed two weeks after the second injection – that's five weeks after the first injection.

What about my HMO?

The Clalit HMO, which insures 4.7 million Israelis, started sending text messages to its members aged 60 and older on Friday, asking them to make an appointment to receive the vaccine starting on Monday. Appointments can be made via the Clalit website and its hotline (*2700). The HMO has set up 400 vaccination centers across the country, and plans to vaccinate 40,000 of its members a day.

Maccabi, the second largest HMO, started inviting its members by email on Thursday to make an appointment for a vaccine beginning on Monday. Policy holders can do so through Maccabi's hotline (*3555), and in the coming days will be able to make appointments via the HMO's app and website.

Maccabi plans on vaccinating 25,000 policy holders a day, seven days a week, depending on the pace at which vaccines arrive. For the first week of the coronavirus vaccination campaign, the HMO is setting up 24 vaccination centers across Israel. As more and more vaccines arrive in the country, they will be administered at about 300 stations in over 80 centers.

The Meuhedet HMO opened its hotline for vaccine appointments on Thursday, and will soon invite members aged 60 and up to call the line or make an appointment on its website. For the first stage of the vaccination campaign, the HMO will inoculate its policy holders in nine clinics throughout the country, and will run 60 vaccination stations and four mobile clinics at the peak of the operation.

The Leumit HMO will start calling on its members aged 60 and up on Sunday to make an appointment for a vaccine. During the first stage, it will inoculate policy holders at 12 centers, and at the operation's peak will operate 60 vaccination centers throughout the country.

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