Health Ministry chief says Israel aims to vaccinate over 150,000 people per day

Chezy Levy says no shortage of vaccines, believes lockdown will last longer than 2 weeks; asks public to obey regulations even if they don’t have faith in the government

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, on December 23, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem, on December 23, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The director-general of the Health Ministry said on Saturday that Israel hopes to eventually reach a vaccination rate of at least 150,000 people per day, and called on the public to obey restrictions even if they do not have faith in the government.

“I hope that within a month, millions will have received their first dose, if not their second,” Chezy Levy told the Kan public broadcaster.

Levy also said that the at-risk population should be largely vaccinated with the two required doses of the vaccine at some point in February.

“But it is all dependent on two things — firstly that Pfizer and Moderna will be able to increase the supply of vaccines to Israel. And the second thing of course is that the public turns up to get inoculated,” Levy said.

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

He added that there was no shortage of vaccines and that the intention was for people to be inoculated seven days a week, 24 hours per day if necessary.

At that rate, the vast majority of the population could be vaccinated by the end of March. Israeli hospitals are to join the vaccination effort next week, and hundreds of IDF medics will also participate, to help expedite the process.

Along with some four million doses from Pfizer expected to arrive by the end of the month, it has been reported 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.

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 earlier than April.

Levy noted the scenes of crowding in markets across the country and a large party held in Tel Aviv’s Park Hayarkon on Friday, calling on the public to obey the virus regulations “even if they don’t believe in the government.”

People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on December 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While the vaccination drive is moving quickly ahead, Israel’s virus contagion rates are also rising, however, and the country is going into a third nationwide lockdown on Sunday afternoon.

Levy also said the lockdown could in fact last for three to four weeks until infection rates were significantly lowered.

“I believe it won’t just be two weeks,” Levy said. “These are [infection rates] that we haven’t seen for a long time.”

People wait to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a nursing home, in Ganei Tikva, Israel, Dec. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Levy’s comments came a day after a top official from his ministry said Israel aims to begin vaccinating the general public within 7-10 days.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the Health Ministry’s public health services, told Channel 12 news that the ministry intends to move quickly to vaccinations 24/7, and “we hope in 7-10 days” to start vaccinating the general public.

Over 200,000 Israelis received a first dose of the vaccine this week — with the focus on healthcare workers and people aged over 60 — placing Israel second in the world in vaccinations per capita, after Bahrain, according to the University of Oxford-run Our World in Data.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis. (Courtesy)

Asked on Channel 12 whether this meant Israel would essentially have completed its vaccination drive by March 23’s election day, Alroy-Preis carefully avoided a direct answer but stressed that the ministry was doing everything in its power to expedite the arrival of sufficient vaccine doses and to accelerate the inoculation program. The Pfizer vaccines which Israel is using require two doses, three weeks apart.

Alroy-Preis also said vaccinations in elderly care facilities should be largely completed by the end of next week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted on Thursday that Israel would likely be the first country in the world to overcome the pandemic. “I want to tell you that the combination of the marvelous vaccine campaign on the one hand, and a short and quick lockdown on the other, is allowing us to get out of the coronavirus [pandemic],” Netanyahu said in a statement. “And we’ll likely be the first country to get out of [it], within a few weeks,” he added.

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