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Health Ministry chief says aiming to vaccinate 60% of population by April

Chezy Levy reportedly tells ministers Israel will have capacity to store 7 million Pfizer doses by end of January; Tel Aviv hospital runs out of vaccine, orders more

Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Herzliya on December 20, 2020. (Flash90)
Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Herzliya on December 20, 2020. (Flash90)

The director-general of the Health Ministry said Sunday that the ministry has set a goal of vaccinating the majority of Israelis by early next year.

“The goal is to vaccinate about 60 percent of the population by the end of the first quarter of 2021,” he told the high-level coronavirus cabinet, according to leaks from the meeting.

Levy, however, warned that it would be longer before Israelis could return to normalcy.

“Maybe a month after we have achieved a herd immunity state we will start to get back to routine, but with masks,” he said.

Levy also reportedly said that by the end of January, Israel would be able to store up to seven million doses at temperatures low enough for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

His comments came as Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv announced that it had run out doses for the day, after administering 1,000 shots on Sunday.

The hospital said another delivery was ordered from the Health Ministry.

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

On Saturday, Levy denied a report that authorities were already out of doses to allocate after sending the first batch of several tens of thousands of doses to health maintenance organizations, with no clear timeline for when the next shipments of shots would arrive.

“There will be vaccines for all the Israeli people; talk about a shortage isn’t correct,” Levy was quoted saying by the Ynet news site.

Israel’s vaccine drive officially began on Sunday morning, with healthcare workers receiving vaccinations, along with President Reuven Rivlin and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

The government hopes to inoculate some 60,000 people per day and as many as two million by the end of January. But Hebrew media reports said the first week would serve as a pilot program, tamping down expectations that hundreds of thousands of Israelis would be vaccinated within days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night became the first person in Israel to receive the coronavirus vaccine, getting the shot on live television and setting off the nation’s ambitious COVID-19 vaccination campaign. He hailed the occasion as a “very great day” for the nation.

A medical worker prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at Barzilai Medical Center in the southern coastal city of Ashkelon, on December 20, 2020. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

Along with some four million doses from Pfizer expected to arrive by the end of the month, Channel 12 said last week that another four million were expected to come by the end of March for a total of eight million doses — enough to vaccinate four million people. Israel’s population is about 9.25 million.

The country also has an agreement to receive 6 million doses of the Moderna vaccine, enough for 3 million people, which was authorized in the United States for an emergency rollout on Friday by the Food and Drug Administration. However, Channel 12 has said Moderna’s vaccine is not expected to arrive in Israel before April.

The start of the vaccination campaign comes as Israel contends with a rise in new infections, with the coronavirus cabinet convening Sunday to discuss reimposing restrictions.

The meeting ended without ministers approving any new restrictions on commerce or schools, though they okayed a measure barring entry to Israel of all foreign citizens arriving from the UK, Denmark and South Africa, in an effort to prevent the spread of new mutations of the coronavirus that have been recorded in those countries.

The measures also order all Israelis returning from those three countries to enter isolation in state-run quarantine hotels.

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