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Health Ministry: In latest milestone, over 50% Israelis vaccinated with 1st dose

4.65 million of country’s 9.29 million population receives one shot, with 3.27 million of them getting recommended second dose as well; over 85% aged 70-plus received both doses

East Jerusalem residents receive COVID-19 vaccine injections in a mobile Magen David Station at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on February 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
East Jerusalem residents receive COVID-19 vaccine injections in a mobile Magen David Station at the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on February 26, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Just over half of Israel’s population has had at least a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the Health Ministry said Friday in its latest update.

It said that 4.65 million of the country’s 9.29 million population had received a first shot, with 3.27 million of them getting the recommended second dose too.

Over 85 percent of people aged 70 and over have received both doses, the ministry said.

Some 3 million Israelis are currently not eligible for the vaccine, including children under 16 and people who have recovered from COVID-19.

Israel launched its massive inoculation operation on December 19, backed by a deal with Pfizer which mounted an airlift of its vaccine in exchange for biomedical data on its effects.

A first dose of the vaccine is 85 percent effective two to four weeks after its injection, Israel’s Sheba Hospital said last week in a study published in the scientific journal The Lancet.

Pfizer’s product is 94 percent effective against symptomatic cases of COVID-19, according to a study of 1.2 million people in Israel published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, confirming data already made public in the Jewish state.

A paramedic with Israel’s Magen David Adom medical services shows a vile of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, before inoculating Palestinians in a mobile clinic on February 26, 2021, at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP)

“This is the first peer-reviewed, large-scale evidence for the effectiveness of a vaccine in real-world conditions,” said Ben Reis, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and one of the paper’s authors.

Despite the promising results, Israel has imposed a weekend night curfew over the carnival-like Jewish holiday of Purim, to dampen festive gatherings it fears could cause a spike in infection.

Since Thursday, people have been forbidden to stray more than 1,000 meters (1,093 yards) from home between 8:30 pm and 5:00 am daily and parties are banned.

Gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people in closed spaces and 20 people in the open.

Purim typically includes costumes and boisterous public celebrations marking a story dating from fourth-century Persia that saw Jews defeat a murderous plot against them.

For many it also involves services in synagogues and shared meals.

“For this Purim, there is a mixture of joy and worry about corona,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein wrote on his Twitter account on Friday.

The ministry’s latest update said that nearly 770,000 cases had been recorded in Israel since the start of the pandemic, including close to 5,700 deaths.

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