Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Tuesday predicted the first batches of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine wouldn’t arrive in Israel for another two months, as he again called for tightening lockdown measures to curb surging infections.
Moderna announced overnight that Israel approved its vaccine for use in the country. Both the Massachusetts-based biotech firm and the director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry, Chezy Levy, said they expected doses to reach Israel by the end of January.
But Edelstein said during a press conference: “We don’t know anything about moving up [the delivery] of the Moderna vaccines. Unfortunately only in two months will we see the shipments.”
He said “we’ll be happy” if Moderna begins shipping vaccines to Israel sooner, but stressed that ministry officials had no indication that was the case.
The health minister was asked about a Times of Israel report that employees at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office were vaccinated regardless of age or preexisting health conditions, a day after Edelstein halted vaccine supplies to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv for vaccinating teachers not in prioritized at-risk groups.
Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, railed at Ichilov and said there were “criminals who tried to receive vaccines at the expense of the elderly, the sick,” but didn’t address the report.
He also called for an immediate tightening of the national coronavirus lockdown, after Israel on Monday recorded one of its highest daily infection rates since the pandemic began.
“We need to reach a full lockdown in the State of Israel,” Edelstein said.
He called for the closure of nonessential workplaces and schools, and said there should be “zero gatherings.”
“Only in a situation like this can we get through the new outbreak and reach a situation in which millions of Israelis will be vaccinated,” he said.
Edelstein asserted that a lack of further restrictions would result in hundreds more dead and thousands of serious cases.
Speaking after Edelstein, Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the Health Ministry’s public services division, warned that morbidity was rising among all age and population groups, with some 60 percent of Israelis living in high infection areas.
She also said that even if lockdown measures are tightened, cases will continue to rise.
“We’re breaking the forecast for serious and critical patients… this is creating an incredible burden at hospitals,” she said.
Her comments came a day after top hospital officials said they were seeing a sharp rise in COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization and warned Israel was entering the worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic yet. Edelstein told ministers Monday that Israel was heading toward the same fate as Italy, which last year was one of the worst-affected countries and has so far suffered some 75,000 deaths.
As of Tuesday morning, 1,361 people were hospitalized for coronavirus complications, including 764 people in serious condition, with 183 on ventilators.
The Health Ministry said there were 55,312 active cases, with 8,308 infections confirmed Monday, the highest daily increase since over 9,000 infections were recorded on September 30, when the country was under a second national lockdown.
Along with another 693 cases since midnight, the number of infections since the pandemic began rose to 450,116.
The death toll stood at 3,445, with 14 Israelis dying from COVID-19 on Monday.
Late last month Israel began its third national lockdown since the start of the virus outbreak, but the closure has been slammed as ineffective and full of holes, including schools and workplaces remaining largely open and a lack of enforcement. Commerce, recreation and travel have mostly been banned.
Ministers are expected convene Tuesday to decide on tightening the lockdown.
The surge in new infections comes as the national vaccination campaign is in full swing, with Israel reaching a pace of 150,000 injections every day for the past several days. On Friday, Israel officially passed one million vaccinations or some 11% of its population — far and away the world leader in vaccinations per capita.
Tempering expectations, however, Hebrew media reports said Sunday that Israel will slow down or even completely stop vaccinating people next week with the first dose of the Pfizer inoculation due to a shortage of vaccines that will take several weeks to resolve. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the expected shipment of Moderna vaccines would affect that forecast.