Israel is set to expand its coronavirus vaccination campaign to include Israelis of all age groups, the Health Ministry announced Wednesday, as daily vaccination figures drop and demand for the vaccine among priority groups decreases.
Until now, vaccine eligibility has been limited to people 35 and older, or those in specific priority groups, such as medical workers and educational staff. The Health Ministry told health care providers to prepare to expand the COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Thursday to include anyone over 16.
According to Health Ministry estimates, expanding eligibility to 18-35-year-olds would apply to some 1.7 million Israelis. 26 percent of people in their 20s – about 300,000 Israelis – already got vaccinated, either because they are in a priority group, or due to dose surplus in previous vaccination rounds.
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Despite the latest decision, both Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy ordered health maintenance organizations (HMOs) to focus on vaccinating those over the age of 50, as well as people with mobility issues who cannot leave their homes.
According to data released by the Health Ministry on Wednesday, over a third of the population has received the first dose of the vaccine and almost a fifth of the population has received the second and final jab.
Roughly 5.15 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Israel, when taking into account both first and second doses, according to the ministry's data. More than 3.25 million people (35.7 percent of the population) have received the first dose of the vaccine, after about 70,000 people received the first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday. Of this figure, almost 1.9 million people (20.8 percent of the population) received the second dose of the vaccination – about 30,000 of them on Tuesday.
Speaking at a press briefing at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem on Tuesday night, Netanyahu emphasized that the government's strategy is to vaccinate at least 90 percent of Israelis 50 and older within the next two weeks and "gradually" begin reopening Israel next week. “It’s attainable. 77 percent of them are already vaccinated,” he said.
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According to the premier, the U.K. variant poses the biggest threat to Israel's "tremendous vaccination campaign," noting that about About 80 percent of new cases this week have been linked to the British variant, and calling it "a massive and rapid spread."
Netanyahu insisted that the major concern relates to people ages 50 and up, as they represent 97 percent of deaths and 93 percent of serious cases. “If we manage to bring the disease under control for this age group, if we manage to vaccinate these people, we’re on our way to victory in the fight against the coronavirus.”
Although these figures indicate that Israel's vaccination drive is continuing apace, over the last week the daily number of people receiving the vaccine has dropped by almost half, which could foil the government's campaign to fully immunize 5 million Israelis by April.
In a radio interview on Wednesday morning, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein noted “a slight slowdown, due to a slight decrease in demand,” in terms of the numbers of those receiving the vaccine.
The first vaccination wave, which saw record compliance, put away concerns from before the campaign that compliance would be low.
But according to sources at the health maintenance organizations, the last week has seen a significant slowdown, not just among 35-to 40-year-olds, but also of older people.
Estimates in the health system regarding the low compliance are that young people view the risks as small, making do with their older family members getting the vaccine. They may also shy away from waiting in line over the weekend. “There is a psychological element that wasn’t present before. The high accessibility of the vaccine and the feeling that this is not a scarce resource affects the sense of urgency. People tell themselves that they can wait and do it later,” says one HMO official.