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Health minister halts vaccine supply to Tel Aviv hospital that injected teachers

Yuli Edelstein fumes after Ichilov vaccinates thousands of teaching staff, many below 60 and not in risk groups; hospital chief says rules were followed, didn’t want to waste doses

A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on December 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A medical worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on December 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Monday ordered vaccine supplies halted to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, after it vaccinated thousands of teachers in the city.

The hospital inoculated the teachers at a vaccination center set up in Rabin Square as part of a joint effort with the Tel Aviv Municipality. Many of those vaccinated were under 60 years old and didn’t have preexisting health conditions, as required by the Health Ministry.

“The minister ordered the director-general of the ministry to stop the vaccine allotment to Ichilov Hospital and to examine the subsequent allocation of vaccines to the hospital,” a statement from Edelstein’s office said.

“This is a national resource and should be treated as such,” the statement added, calling on all vaccine providers to adhere to ministry guidelines.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (L) gives a press conference at a coronavirus vaccine center in Tel Aviv on December 13, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/Pool)

Ichilov director Ronni Gamzu, who served as national coronavirus czar until November, pushed back on Edelstein’s decision.

“The hospital acted according to the Health Ministry’s prioritization guidelines, in which an inventory is made for the over-55 age group and chronic patients who need to be vaccinated, then teachers and police officers as a second priority,” Gamzu said in a statement posted to Ichilov’s Facebook page.

He said the hospital vaccinated all relevant patients and sent appointments to all those over 60 who haven’t received a vaccine, and also inoculated homeless people and police officers at the Health Ministry’s request.

“Fortunately, in a special operation that was carried out in only a few hours, we successfully prevented the waste of a national resource and vaccinated close to 3,000 teachers and preschool teachers, as well as 2,000 people over 50, people with chronic conditions and people over 60,” he said.

Gamzu also questioned why the Health Ministry was supporting vaccinating police officers but “punishing” the hospital for inoculating teachers, if they are in the same priority group.

“In only two weeks Ichilov Hospital has become a vaccinating hospital for all Israeli citizens and proved its exceptional capabilities,” he said.

Ronni Gamzu is vaccinated against COVID-19 at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Tel Aviv Municipality’s education department also touted Monday’s vaccination drive for teachers.

“Education before everything,” it wrote on its Facebook page.

Ichilov is the main hospital for Tel Aviv and is also called the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.

In addition to teachers, Channel 12 said crowds of other people gathered at the vaccination site at the end of the day, hoping to receive surplus doses. Medical workers have in recent days inoculated people with leftover shots rather than let them go to waste, sparking criticism that some of those receiving the doses were not yet allowed to get them.

Edelstein’s decision to cut off vaccine supplies to Ichilov came amid concerns over a shortage of doses and as the Health Ministry pushes for the closure of schools in a bid to curb rising infections.

The education system has been a sticking point in the current lockdown, with some ministers opposed to closing schools, and there have been growing demands in recent weeks for teachers and daycare staff to be prioritized for vaccinations as most schools stayed open despite the high level of infections in Israel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who opposes shuttering the education system, called Monday for prioritizing the vaccination of teaching staff, which he said would reduce their risk of being infected by students.

Israelis wait to recieve a COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center operated by the Tel Aviv Municipality with Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov hospital) at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2020. (Miriam ALster/Flash90)

The teachers union called on Sunday for parents to keep children home if possible, saying the “education minister is abandoning the safety of 200,000 teaching staff and their families.”  Education Minister Yoav Gallant has pressed for schools to remain open during the lockdown.

Some 600,000 students are in high-infection areas began remote learning on Monday.

Israel is leading the world per capita in its vaccination campaign, but health officials say that vaccines alone will not be enough to stem surging infections at this stage. Hospital chiefs said Monday that the current third wave outbreak is shaping up to be the most severe so far.

Israel last week imposed a third national lockdown to curb the spread of the virus, though health officials and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have called to tighten restrictions.

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