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‘Fast and furious’: Israel seeks to give 3rd dose to 1.5m seniors in 8 days

Bennett tells HMO executives government resources are at their disposal, discusses vaccine rollout with America’s Fauci; health officials weigh quarantine for all arrivals

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, starting the campaign for the third dose booster of the Coronavirus vaccine. (Haim Zach / GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, starting the campaign for the third dose booster of the Coronavirus vaccine. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett notified healthcare executives on Friday that the government’s goal is to distribute the third dose of the coronavirus vaccine to 1.5 million Israelis above the age of 60 in the next eight days.

In a meeting with the heads of health maintenance organizations on the day that Israel officially made the third dose available to older Israelis, Bennett said the government will provide HMOs with additional manpower via the Home Front Command as well as state funding, Ynet reported.

“This is not a long operation, it will be fast and furious,” the Meuhedet HMO’s chief executive officer Sigal Rosenberg told the news site, explaining that another goal of the vaccine drive is to relieve hospitals of pressure in the coming weeks and prevent them from being overrun with elderly coronavirus patients.

“We will open dedicated vaccination distribution complexes, proactively inviting the relevant populations while expanding the manpower as needed,” she said.

Also on Friday, Bennett tweeted that he’d discussed the world-trailblazing vaccine rollout with Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

“Had great discussion with Dr Fauci about dealing with the Delta [variant] pandemic. We’ll be sharing data and methods on booster shot and course of action. The only way to face COVID is by working together!” Bennett wrote on Twitter.

President Isaac Herzog receives his third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Sheba Medical Center, July 30, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Bennett reached out to Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy on Friday, asking them to get vaccinated as well to serve as an example for the public.

Among the first Israelis to receive a third dose were President Isaac Herzog, 60, his wife Michal, opposition chairman Benjamin Netanyahu, 71 and his wife Sara, 60.

Bennett himself is only 49 years old and thus not eligible to receive a third dose at this time.

Israel’s decision to begin administering third doses comes amid a struggle to contain a recent wave of coronavirus infections that has seen case numbers rocket, from just dozens a day a month ago to an average daily caseload of over 2,000 this week.

Also receiving his third dose Friday was Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash, who told Channel 12 that he felt “great” post-inoculation.

Backing the decision to move ahead with distribution of the third dose before the US Food and Drug Association granted its approval, Ash said “it would have been impossible to wait a few more months.

“We already have enough vaccines and the arrival of more doses is expected in the coming weeks in order to effectively implement this third dose vaccination drive,” he said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, starting the campaign for the third dose booster of the Coronavirus vaccine. At right is President Isaac Herzog (Haim Zach / GPO)

Ash said that no additional COVID-19 restrictions were slated to be implemented in the immediate future.

For now, he said, “the vaccine is our solution to make it out of the pandemic, so it is important that everyone who can goes and gets vaccinated.”

He urged government ministers to assist in the effort of urging the older public to go and receive the third dose.

Ash also assured viewers that the vaccine was safe for children and urged those above the age of 12 to get inoculated.

“We do not force people to get vaccinated, but it is important to make the vaccines accessible so that those who are able to,” Ash said, hinting at his support for using schools as distribution centers, something that Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has come out adamantly against.

Separately on Thursday, the countries of Cyprus, the United Kingdom, Turkey and Georgia were added to the government’s no-fly list and those caught violating the rule will be fined NIS 5,000 ($1,500).

An Israeli man is seen after receiving a third Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in the Israeli city of Ramat HaSharon, July 30, 2021. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

Health officials have recommended that the countries of Greece, Bulgaria, France, Italy and the United Arab Emirates be added to the list as well.

Channel 12 reported that health officials are beginning to recommend that all arrivals from abroad be required to quarantine, as opposed to only those who return from a compiled list of countries where COVID-19 rates are high.

The health officials argue that there is no point in updating the list of so-called red states every week, thereby confusing the public, when a uniform rule would be simpler.

Under the new proposal currently being weighed by health officials, even those vaccinated or recovered from the virus would have to isolate for a full week upon returning from abroad, the network said.

In the more immediate future, the Health Ministry is slated to recommend that all Israelis returning from so-called green countries where virus numbers are low be required to isolate for 24 hours.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu receives a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center on July 30, 2021. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

The government’s coronavirus cabinet is expected to decide on the matter in its next meeting.

Health Ministry figures on Friday showed 2,140 new COVID-19 cases diagnosed the day before, the fourth day in a row that the number was above 2,000, a daily caseload not seen since March.

There were 167 patients in serious condition, an increase of 25 since midnight.

Of the over 91,202 tests performed Saturday, 2.37 percent came back positive — a rate similar to that seen in recent days.

There were 16,162 active virus cases in the country, Health Ministry data showed. Two months ago that figure was at around 200.

The death toll stood at 6,466, with two new fatalities recorded Thursday, according to the ministry.

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