Hours ahead of the kickoff of Israel’s coronavirus vaccination drive on Saturday night, it was reported that the country was already out of doses to allocate, with no clear timeline for when the next shipments of shots would arrive.
The Health Ministry denied the story.
According to a report by Channel 13 news, healthcare providers had already distributed all of the doses of the Pfizer vaccine that they had received.
Reporter Nadav Eyal tweeted that the Health Ministry and health organizations had failed to clearly send a message that this week’s vaccination effort was more of a pilot program, and that there weren’t enough shots available for everyone eligible. For example, Clalit, Israel’s biggest health services provider, was said to have received just 35,000 doses for the coming week, Eyal said.
However, Channel 12 news reported that in fact Clalit had only booked around 20,000 appointments and that anyone eligible could still get an appointment for the coming days. The outlet said that the Meuhedet health organization had a small number of appointments remaining, and that Maccabi was still suffering problems with its booking system. The Leumit HMO will only begin to book appointments on Sunday.
“There will be vaccines for all the Israeli people; the talk about a shortage isn’t right,” Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said later Saturday.
Meanwhile, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash warned on Saturday that Israel would not see significant results from the vaccination drive for weeks.
“We will start to see results after no less than two months from the start of the immunization program,” Ash said. “Despite the vaccine, we need to keep to the restrictions. Go and get vaccinated, but keep to the regulations at the same time.”
Israel will deploy the Pfizer vaccine in the first stage of the inoculation push. The country also has an agreement to receive 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, enough for 3 million people, which was authorized in the United States for an emergency rollout on Friday by the Food and Drug Administration.
However, Channel 12 has said Moderna’s vaccine is not expected to arrive in Israel earlier than April.
The first person in Israel to receive the vaccine on Saturday night will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, followed by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. Netanyahu is 71 and Edelstein 62. The two will do so on live television at 8 p.m.
After the initial kick-off, Sunday will see vaccinations given to hospital workers, followed by employees of health maintenance organizations, private health clinics, and dental offices; medical and nursing students taking part in clinical rounds; members of Magen David Adom and other ambulance services; and residents and caregivers at senior living homes.
Starting Monday, elderly Israelis and at-risk populations will be able to receive a vaccine by appointment, subject to availability.
Next in line, at an unspecified date, will be Israelis working in jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus, such as teachers, social workers, first responders, and prison staff (prisoners will also get priority); and Israel Defense Forces soldiers and other security personnel.
Last will come the rest of the population, with a timeline depending on how many doses arrive in Israel and the level of demand by the priority groups.
Edelstein told Channel 12 on Friday that the pace of vaccinations would depend on demand from the public, but estimated that Israel could largely complete giving the first round of vaccinations to at-risk persons “in about two weeks.”
They would then need to return for a second shot after 21 days, meaning Israel could completely vaccinate its at-risk populations by the end of January. However, officially, Israel is aiming to complete that phase by March, Channel 12 said, allowing for logistical complications and public reluctance.
“If the vaccination of the at-risk population goes ahead at a good pace, we won’t wait until the very last one is vaccinated before opening it up to the general population,” Edelstein said.
A poll published Friday indicated that 63 percent of Israelis currently plan to get vaccinated for the coronavirus, with numbers highest among senior citizens.
The poll in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper found that 24% plan to vaccinate immediately and 39% will “probably get vaccinated, but will wait a little bit.”
Among those above the age of 65, 50% said they plan to vaccinate immediately and 32% said they’ll likely get the vaccine after seeing how it goes for others.
The vaccine drive comes as the government was said to be mulling new restrictions on the public, given rising infection numbers.
Israel is contending with a marked rise in new coronavirus cases, with infections surging to almost 3,000 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the highest caseloads in over two months.
The government-set benchmark for reimposing restrictions is an average of 2,500 daily cases over an entire week or a basic reproduction number of over 1.32. That figure was at 1.27 last week, according to the Health Ministry. Any value over one means the virus infection rate is increasing.