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Health minister: 'Today we'll pass one million'

As 2021 dawns, Israel becomes first country to vaccinate 10% of population

Health Ministry announces 950,000 out of 9.3 million have been given first dose of inoculation, including 41% of those aged over 60; daily cases top 5,500 for 4th day in a row

Israelis wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center operated by the Tel Aviv Municipality with Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2020 (Miriam ALster/Flash90)
Israelis wait to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center operated by the Tel Aviv Municipality with Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov), at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2020 (Miriam ALster/Flash90)

Israel became the first country Friday to have provided the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine to 10 percent of its population. With another 153,000 people vaccinated Thursday in 325 locations, some 950,000 had been inoculated by Friday morning, the Health Ministry said — or 1 in 10 Israelis in a nation of 9.3 million.

“Yesterday we broke a new record and vaccinated 153,430 people,” Health Minister Edelstein said in a statement, thanking medical teams for their work. “Today we’ll pass one million.”

The Jewish state has far outpaced other countries so far, according to statistics from the Our World in Data website operated by Oxford University. Second place is held by Bahrain with 3.37%, followed by the UK with 1.39% (though the latter’s data is a few days old). The US stands at 0.84%.

Israel started vaccinating on December 20, with a focus on healthcare workers and then on over 60s and at-risk sectors.

Its globe-leading vaccination drive has been attributed to various factors, including its relatively small but densely-packed population and highly-professional, community-integrated health services.

Related: Small wonder: How Israel rolled up its sleeves and became vaccination nation

Next week, a large-scale vaccination center is set to open in Tel Aviv’s famous Rabin Square, and aims to inoculate approximately 5,000 people per day, the city’s municipality said in a statement Thursday.

The vaccination tent and 20 vaccination booths will be operated by medical staff from Ichilov Hospital, starting with Tel Aviv residents over 60, and later to all Israeli citizens.

Throughout the pandemic, Rabin Square was used as a COVID-19 testing site, conducting over 1,500 tests per day. The testing site is expected to continue operations alongside the vaccination center, even as it ramps up inoculations.

The campaign currently uses the Pfizer vaccination, which requires two shots, spread a few weeks apart. Though not yet available to the general public, vaccination centers have also been opening their doors to all comers at the end of each day in an effort to make sure vaccine units available for immediate use do not go to waste.

So far some 41% of over 60-year-olds have had their first shot, according to Health Ministry figures released Friday.

However, a shortage of injections means the ministry might be forced to semi-freeze the campaign for two weeks in January. The pause would allow those who have received the first dose to get the second dose, but new first doses would not be given.

An IDF medic gets vaccinated against the COVID-19 coronavirus at the medical center of Tzrifin military base in Rishon Lezion on December 28, 2020. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Channel 12 news reported Thursday that one million vaccines from the US biotech company Moderna will arrive in Israel next week, rather than in March as had previously been agreed, boosting dwindling supplies. However, the Health Ministry said it had no such information.

“We would like to clarify that as of now, we don’t have information about Moderna’s intention to move up the delivery of millions of vaccines to Israel,” the ministry said in a statement.

Later, the network cited sources in Moderna as insisting the shipment was ready and that its departure was only a matter of final approval. The report said Moderna officials were “surprised” at the ministry’s apparent denial.

Meanwhile Health Ministry Director-General said Thursday that officials “intend to start [vaccinating] under-60s next week. It depends of course on the speed in which [healtcare providers] finish vaccinating over-60s.”

It was not clear how this statement squared with the threat of a shortage.

While the inoculation program has ramped up, so have infection rates, which prompted a third national lockdown that began on Sunday.

Active cases rose to 45,373 on Friday, 678 of them in serious condition, and the death toll grew by 13 overnight to 3,338.

Daily infections have topped 5,000 over the past few days. They remained steady on Thursday with 5,804 cases confirmed and 5.7% of tests coming back positive, similar to previous days. It was the fourth straight day with more than 5,500 confirmed cases.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel is aiming for some 2.25 million Israelis out of a population of 9.3 million to be vaccinated by the end of January.

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