Government launches bid to boost vaccination rates amid resurgent COVID

State to offer financial incentives to HMOs, which will contact those age 60-plus who have yet to receive three doses, deploy mobile clinics and offer at-home inoculations to some

A health worker prepares to give a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit Health Services center in Katzrin, Golan Heights, January 9, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
A health worker prepares to give a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit Health Services center in Katzrin, Golan Heights, January 9, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

With COVID cases continuing to rise, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and the heads of the country’s health maintenance organizations (HMOs) on Thursday agreed on a plan to boost vaccination, specifically among the elderly and those at high risk from the virus.

Under the plan, the state will provide HMOs with a NIS 100 ($31) incentive for each person over the age of 60 who receives their fourth vaccine dose.

According to information provided by the Health Ministry, while people over 60 constitute only 5% of the country’s population, 94% of the fatalities during the latest Omicron wave were members of that age bracket.

HMO representatives will also contact the 120,000 people above the age of 60 who have not been vaccinated at all or who have not completed the basic three-dose regimen.

Mobile clinics will be utilized, mainly targeted at more disadvantaged areas of the country. In special cases, those who are unable to arrive at a clinic to get jabbed will be able to book a vaccination at home.

A public relations campaign will also be launched on social media and on TV.

Illustrative: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, right, and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz hold a press conference at the HaKirya military base in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2021. (Moti Milrod)

Following the meeting, Bennett’s office announced that current coronavirus restrictions — such as the indoor mask mandate — will remain in place until at least May 1.

Bennett and Horowitz were also presented with a comprehensive plan for dealing with a potential new coronavirus variant that would involve canceling air travel to and from the country and sealing its borders, among other measures. A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said the plan’s aim is “preventing the future strain from entering the country’s borders.”

Health officials have in part attributed the current rise cases to the BA.2 variant, a subvariant of Omicron. BA.2 is believed to be more infectious than Omicron, but not necessarily more severe.

According to Health Ministry data released earlier on Thursday, the reproduction rate, or R number, ticked up to 1.42. The figure represents how many people each coronavirus carrier infects, with any reading above 1 indicating the virus is spreading.

The R number was less than 1 a week ago.

A Magen David worker takes a swab sample at a COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in Jerusalem on March 22, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The ministry said 13,603 new infections were confirmed Wednesday, with 19.08 percent of tests coming back positive.

Active cases stood at 66,821, including 786 people hospitalized for COVID complications. The number of serious cases remained steady at 301, among them 130 on ventilators.

The death toll was 10,455, with the Health Ministry reporting 27 fatalities from coronavirus over the past week.

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