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Israel expands nighttime vaccinations, as hundreds of reservists to join effort

PM hails success of pilot overnight inoculation drive in Tel Aviv, orders its extension to ten cities throughout the country

Israelis stand in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile Magen David Adom center on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, on August 14, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis stand in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile Magen David Adom center on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, on August 14, 2021 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

With Israel racing to contain a fast-spreading wave of coronavirus infections, the military is reportedly set to draft hundreds more reservists to aid with the efforts, while the government announced that it would expand a new nighttime vaccination drive to 10 major cities starting Sunday night.

Hailing a pilot of the initiative in Tel Aviv Saturday night as a success, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said in a statement that the list of participating cities would be published the following day.

According to media reports, hundreds of people showed up as the Magen David Adom ambulance service and the Tel Aviv Municipality launched their mass coronavirus vaccine drive Saturday night and into the early morning hours, targeting partygoers and youths in the coastal city who have yet to be vaccinated.

Along with anyone who hasn’t gotten a first or second dose, a statement from MDA said anyone over 50 could get a booster shot.

Vaccine stations were set up around Dizengoff Square, operating from 8 p.m. Saturday until 4 a.m., with dozens of MDA staff administering the shots.

The ambulance service’s chief, Eli Bin, stressed that anyone could get vaccinated at the stations — regardless of age or whether they have insurance or any sort of residency status.

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine are pictured at a Magen David Adom mobile vaccination in Tel Aviv, on July 5, 2021. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“In the past year it has been proven to us how the vaccines are effective and prevent infection and serious morbidity. In these days, when the number of infections is climbing each day, we consider it of paramount importance to launch a vaccination drive and make the vaccines accessible, without the need to make an appointment, free of charge,” he said in a statement.

The Health Ministry also helped put together the overnight vaccine drive, as it aimed to boost immunization rates amid a resurgence in COVID cases — driven by the super-contagious Delta variant of the virus — that has led the government to reimpose restrictions.

“This is the saving of lives and night inoculations allow people who do not want to miss work to get vaccinated without an appointment at unconventional hours. We will continue to make every effort to vaccinate everyone who is willing and able,” Bennett said in a statement.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday that the military was set to draft hundreds more reservists — joining the thousand it has already called up — in order to assist with the vaccination efforts, contact tracing, and home treatments so as to lessen the load on the country’s hospitals.

Soldiers in the IDF Home Front Command have already been conducting serological tests of Israeli children — checking to see which of them have the antibodies for the coronavirus — alongside local authorities ahead of the new academic year. So far the military has begun testing in four cities with high ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, populations as their schools opened last week.

A Home Front Command soldier guides residents to a COVID-19 testing tent in Netanya on February 7, 2021, following the easing of a nationwide lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The military had scaled back its involvement in the government’s COVID-19 response as case numbers dropped this spring and summer, but it was called back in with the ongoing spread of the Delta variant.

Last month, Israel became the first country in the world to begin administering booster shots to those over 60, and became a pioneer once again on Friday, as it began giving third doses to people older than 50. As of Saturday night, 860,137 people in Israel had received the booster.

Out of Israel’s population of some 9.3 million, over 5.8 million had received at least one vaccine dose, and more than 5.4 million had gotten two.

Bennett warned Saturday that Israel was facing “tough days” ahead as it deals with the resurgence in coronavirus cases, while pushing back on calls for another national lockdown to stem the rising morbidity.

“Everything possible is being done to avoid lockdowns, which are destructive tools for our livelihood, for the economy, and for the education of our children,” he wrote in a lengthy Facebook post. “Lockdowns are a last resort.”

His warning came as the Health Ministry said that 5,868 new cases were recorded on Friday, continuing the trend of around 6,000 daily cases over the past five days — numbers not seen since February, during the country’s most serious outbreak. Another 3,389 cases were recorded since midnight. Health officials have warned the daily new case load could reach 10,000 in the coming week.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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