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First batch of Moderna vaccines arrives in Israel

Some 100,000 doses included in shipment, with further doses from the US biotech firm expected to reach the country next week

Illustrative: Courtney Senechal unpacks a special refrigerated box of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines as she prepared to ready more supply for use at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts, December 24, 2020. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP)
Illustrative: Courtney Senechal unpacks a special refrigerated box of Moderna COVID-19 vaccines as she prepared to ready more supply for use at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts, December 24, 2020. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP)

The first batch of vaccines from US biotech company Moderna arrived Thursday in Israel, in a boost to the country’s national vaccination drive.

The shipment included some 100,000 doses, according to Hebrew media reports. Additional doses are expected to arrive next week.

The delivery arrived on a jumbo jet from Germany that landed at Ben Gurion Airport.

The Moderna vaccine requires two injections, with 100,000 doses enough to immunize 50,000 people. Israel is the first country outside North America to receive the Moderna vaccine.

Officials have said the doses will go to those unable to reach inoculation sites, because Moderna’s vaccine requires less-rigorous cooling conditions than those of Pfizer’s, which have been serving Israel’s vaccination program so far.

Pfizer’s vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, while Moderna’s requires storage at -20°C and can survive in a regular refrigerator for up to 30 days.

The arrival of the vaccines from the Massachusetts-based firm had been the subject of conflicting information in recent days, with top Health Ministry officials giving different timelines as to when they would reach Israel.

Moderna said Monday that Israel had ordered 6 million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate 3 million people. The firm was initially supposed to begin deliveries to Israel in March.

Israel’s vaccination campaign is in full swing, even as the country grapples with a surge in cases and is set to enter a more stringent lockdown on Thursday night.

An Israeli man receives a coronavirus vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said 93,000 people were inoculated in Israel on Wednesday, as the vaccination rate began to tail off. The number of people receiving the shot had reached around 150,000 per day.

According to official Health Ministry data, around 65% of those aged 60 and over have now been vaccinated in Israel. However, it was estimated that the figure could in fact be closer to 70% when factoring in smaller localities where the processing of records is done manually.

Some 1,593,000 people have now been vaccinated in Israel, but the healthcare system is facing a shortage of doses that may force health providers to slow the pace of new inoculations.

Health officials have said the country will prioritize second doses in the coming weeks, and that there are enough vaccines to supply those doses to everyone who has received a first dose.

With the arrival of the Moderna vaccine, the Health Ministry said Thursday that the mixing of doses from two different pharmaceutical companies would be permitted in extreme circumstances.

The ministry additionally said that anyone diagnosed with coronavirus after receiving a first dose of a vaccine would not receive a second dose.

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