Vaccination drive set to begin Dec. 27, with 60,000 per day

After FDA approval, virus czar urges all Israelis to get COVID vaccine

Nachman Ash says immunization ‘is our chance to get out of this pandemic’; daily infection numbers at over 1,800 for third consecutive day

An Israeli nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An Israeli nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash on Saturday urged all Israelis to get vaccinated against COVID-19, after US regulators granted emergency approval for Pfizer’s vaccine.

“I again call on everyone to be immunized when the vaccines arrive in the coming days. This is our chance to get out of this pandemic. Everyone go out to get vaccinated,” Ash said during a visit to the northern Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel.

Ash expressed hope a “significant mass” of vaccines would arrive this month and said he reviewed all the data from the trials on Pfizer’s vaccine, which the US firm developed with its German partner BioNTech.

“The figures are very good. This clearly shows that the vaccine is very effective,” he said.

Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, signalled Israel could approve the vaccine for use in the coming days.

“A few more regulatory things need to be determined regarding the vaccines that arrived her and we’re preparing to begin vaccinating in the coming days, maximum next week,” Levy told Army Radio.

He predicted that if Israelis soon begin to get vaccinated, “I’m convinced that by the summer everyone will immunized.”

Levy also called on the public “not to depend on the vaccine” and relax their adherence to Health Ministry guidelines.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of a DHL freight plane transporting the first batch of Pfizer vaccines at Ben Gurion Airport on December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Israel has agreed to purchase millions of vaccines from Pfizer, with the first batch touching down at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday. Officials have said the vaccine drive will begin on December 27, with 60,000 people being inoculated per day, although there have also been reports that Israel will try to bring that start date forward.

The country has been grappling with rising infection numbers with officials weighing plans — and then backing down — to tighten restrictions.

Daily infection numbers were at 1,818 on Friday, the Health Ministry said Saturday, with the daily caseload topping 1,800 for a third consecutive day.

As of late Saturday, there were 17,180 active cases, 331 people were in serious condition, 123 of them on ventilators. Over 77,000 tests were conducted on Friday, with 2.3 percent returning positive. Any rate above 1.0 indicates the spread of the pandemic is accelerating.

The death toll in Israel since the start of the pandemic stood at 2,979.

After the vaccine won a critical endorsement Thursday from an FDA panel of outside advisers, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said it was “huge news for Israelis,” and said he’d instructed ministry officials “to review the approval and present their recommendations in the coming days.”

The Health Ministry said Thursday medical workers would be first to receive the vaccine, followed by the elderly.

Israel’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the Jerusalem Municipality on November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Those under 16, women who are pregnant, people with serious allergies, and Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19 won’t be vaccinated, reports indicated.

But Channel 12 also said Levy was looking at the possibility of not closely policing the order of vaccination, as the public may at first be hesitant to get inoculated. If the ministry has enough doses and not enough public interest, officials may simply allow anyone who wishes to be vaccinated, the report said.

A nurse prepares a shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, UK, December 8, 2020. (Frank Augstein/AP)

The network also reported Thursday that the Health Ministry is weighing restricting travel and access to certain public venues for Israelis who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The proposal, which could encourage Israelis reluctant to be vaccinated to do so, is expected to encounter legal challenges if adopted.

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