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As vaccination figures dip, Israel starts inoculating all over-16s

Expanded drive said to snag on short supplies, with one HMO only able to book appointments in Jerusalem for next week and Tel Aviv residents told they have to wait

People receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a Maccabi Health Services center at the Givatayim mall, outside of Tel Aviv, January 20, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
People receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a Maccabi Health Services center at the Givatayim mall, outside of Tel Aviv, January 20, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

With Israel’s mass vaccination program apparently losing steam, the country on Thursday opened inoculation to anyone over the age of 16.

Until Thursday, vaccines were available to at-risk groups and anyone over 35, with the elderly first to be immunized, as well as teens aged 16-18.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Thursday urged those 16 and over to get vaccinated, tweeting, “Take advantage of the opportunity that almost no country in the world has.”

He posted Health Ministry data showing the number of shots given on Wednesday had dropped to 107,000, nearly half the peak volume of recent weeks. The daily average for the past seven days was 114,000, compared to over 170,000 in the previous two seven-day periods.

Despite the drop, and after the Health Ministry said on Wednesday that it would open vaccination to those 16 and up, there were reports that at least one of the country’s health maintenance organizations did not have enough shots to meet demand.

Sources in the Maccabi Healthcare Services HMO told The Times of Israel that residents of Jerusalem who newly qualify for inoculation will have to wait until next week because there are not enough supplies.

Channel 12 news reported a similar situation in the Tel Aviv area. Though Maccabi on Wednesday enabled its members to begin booking appointments, many in the central region were unable to set a date as those in Tel Aviv were told there were not enough doses available to complete both shots, and that they would have to wait. In addition, a surge in members trying to book appointments crashed the HMO’s online booking services, the report said.

Nonetheless, by Thursday morning Maccabi clinics in Tel Aviv were allowing all those age 16 and up to begin booking appointments.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 3rd left, visit a COVID-19 vaccination center in Sderot, southern Israel, January 27, 2021. (Liron Moldovan/POOL)

Earlier in the week, the Clalit health provider discarded around 1,000 expired doses after not enough people came in to receive the shots, Channel 12 reported. The Pfizer vaccine expires quickly after being removed from deep freeze.

“Unfortunately, we’re really not seeing the number of people we used to see,” an official at Clalit was quoted as saying. “We’ve seen a dramatic decline in the rate of vaccinations.”

Israel has led the world’s most rapid inoculation campaign, with over a third of the population getting at least one dose. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally lobbied Pfizer/BioNTech to ensure that millions of vaccines would be quickly supplied to the country and, along with Edelstein, has touted the vaccination drive as a central plank in dealing with the virus outbreak.

Health Ministry figures released Thursday showed that so far some 3.3 million people have received at least the first shot, among them 1.9 million who have also had the second dose.

Yet, despite the relatively high number of vaccinations in the Israeli population and weeks of lockdown, the virus continues to run rampant, largely due to more contagious variants, and the country remains under lockdown.

The ministry data showed there were 76,896 active virus patients in the country, of whom 7,385 were diagnosed Wednesday. There were 1,103 patients in serious condition.

The positive test rate on Wednesday was 8.9%, its lowest level in 12 days, but still significantly higher than the 6.5% recorded in early January.

Since the start of the outbreak early last year, 671,459 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Israel, and 4,947 have died of the disease, according to the ministry.

Ministers voted in the early hours of Monday morning to extend the nationwide closure, now in its fourth week, until Friday morning at 7 a.m.

The lockdown has shuttered all nonessential businesses, Ben Gurion International Airport, and the entire school system with the exception of special education institutes.

A follow-up cabinet meeting meant to formulate a plan to ease the nationwide coronavirus lockdown and possibly extend it until after the weekend was postponed on Wednesday, leaving the fate of schools next week uncertain.

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