Israel vaccinated its five millionth citizen against the coronavirus on Monday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted that the entire adult population would be inoculated by the end of April.
Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein were on hand on watch as Janet Lavi-Azulay, 34, a pregnant woman from the central city of Petah Tikva, was given her first shot of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination that Israel is using for its immunization program.
Edelstein jovially pointed out that, due to her condition, it was unclear if Lavi-Azulay’s vaccination was number 5,000,000 or 5,000,001.
Lavi-Azulay told the Kan public broadcaster that it was a “wonderful feeling.”
As for getting the vaccine even though she is pregnant, Lavi-Azulay said, “The danger from the virus is much greater, that’s for sure.”
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 8, 2021
Israel has advised pregnant women to be vaccinated after several expectant mothers died from COVID-19 and dozens of others have experienced serious infections.
Netanyahu called on the public to ignore the “fake news” against being vaccinated and said authorities are working on obtaining tens of millions more vaccine doses for the country to ensure the economy stays open and there are no further lockdowns.
He predicted that by the end of April the entire over-16 population will be vaccinated, adding that there were a million more eligible Israelis who have yet to be immunized. When that is done, Israel will be “out of the coronavirus” pandemic, he said. Israel’s total population is around 9.3 million.
“It is a world achievement,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister also said he had been in contact with Pfizer and the company will soon announce a vaccine that is approved for use on children.
“Kudos to the citizens of Israel who reached five million vaccinated people,” Edelstein said, after admitting that just weeks earlier he doubted that the country would reach the target in the foreseeable future.
“We can now open up nearly everything, the economy, culture, sport, leisure, tourism,” Edelstein said, referring to lockdown restrictions to curb the virus spread, which were already significantly rolled back on Sunday.
In January, Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy predicted Israel would reach “herd immunity” when the combined number of vaccinated, those who have recovered from the coronavirus, and those infected reaches 5 million, according to leaks at the time from a cabinet meeting.
Of the five million who have now had the first vaccine dose, 3,789,118 have also had the second, according to Health Ministry figures released Monday.
Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak early last year, 803,260 people have been diagnosed with the virus and there are 37,698 active patients.
With Israel giving some 70,000 second vaccine shots a day, the country could reach Levy’s herd immunity target by next week.
Much of the economy reopened Sunday as a national lockdown was further rolled back, including restaurants, cafes, school grades 7-10 in low- to medium-infection areas, event venues, attractions and hotels. Higher education institutions and religious seminaries were opened to vaccinated or recovered people and rules on gatherings and worship were relaxed.
The cabinet also decided to ease restrictions on international travel and sidelined a highly controversial committee that was deciding who could enter the country while the airport remained largely shuttered.
There will no longer be an approval process for returning Israelis. In the coming days, 1,000 people a day will be able to enter the country from four locations — New York, Frankfurt, London and Paris — with the number set to go up to 3,000 later this week. Foreign nationals will be permitted to enter the country in exceptional cases, but require permission from a government-run panel.
New coronavirus deaths and infections in Israel have continued to decline from highs in January, and the number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients has dropped to its lowest point since last year.