More than a million Israelis have received a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Health Ministry and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's office announced Monday, just over two weeks after Israel launched its world-first booster campaign.
The 1,048,767 booster shots administered so far represent more than half of the 1.9 million Israelis currently eligible for a third dose: people aged 50 up who had their second shot of the Pfizer vaccine at least five months ago.
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Bennett celebrated the landmark as "wonderful news and a huge achievement, but there's still much work ahead of us," urging more people to get vaccinated.
"Hundreds of thousands of people understand that our decision to give out a third vaccine is what these times call for," Bennett added, hinting at criticism at home and abroad over the decision to launch the booster shot drive.
"The citizens of Israel are the first in the world to receive a third shot, and that shouldn't be taken for granted," the prime minister added.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said, "The vaccine is the best tool we have for our struggle against the delta variant, for protecting our health, our economy, and daily life in Israel. We've made sure that there are enough doses for whoever is eligible. This is the time to use them."
According to the preliminary figures issued by the Health Ministry late on Monday, there are currently 53,169 active coronavirus cases in Israel, with more than 7,000 of them confirmed on Monday alone. This is the highest number of new daily cases since February, with the rate of positive tests also hitting a six-month high.
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The Israeli Health Ministry has ignored the World Health Organization's plea for countries to stop administering third coronavirus shots, arguing that for wealthy countries to offer a third vaccine dose while many poor countries have barely started administering first doses is both morally and epidemiologically unacceptable.
The ministry said in a statement that the decision to administer a third shot was made after medical factors were taken into consideration and that inoculating Israelis with a third dose saves lives.
According to health ministry data published Monday, 5,075 Israelis tested positive with the coronavirus on Sunday, and 519 Israelis are in serious condition; 17 fewer than on Saturday.
The Health Ministry's Director-General Nachman Ash credited the third dose drive for reducing the number of new serious cases.