Health Ministry officials and hospital representatives are set to discuss possibly moving up the scheduled date to begin vaccinating Israelis against COVID-19, Israeli television reported Saturday, after US regulators gave the final go-ahead to Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.
Health maintenance organizations (HMOs) told the ministry they can begin the vaccination drive on December 20, Channel 13 news reported Saturday.
A separate report by the Kan public broadcaster said hospitals were gearing up to begin vaccinating medical personnel this week, pending Israeli approval of the vaccine.
Officials have set December 27 as the start date, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying up to 60,000 people a day will be inoculated.
The Health Ministry must still approve use of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech. The ministry’s director-general, Chezy Levy, signaled earlier Saturday that Israel could approve the shot in the coming days.
“A few more regulatory things need to be determined regarding the vaccines that arrived here and we’re preparing to begin vaccinating in the coming days, maximum next week,” Levy told Army Radio.
He predicted that if Israelis soon begin to get vaccinated, “I’m convinced that by the summer everyone will be immunized.”
Israel has purchased millions of dozes of Pfizer’s vaccine, with the first batch landing at Ben Gurion Airport on Wednesday.
According to Channel 12 news, a potential snag in the rollout of the vaccine is the need for special syringes to administer it, which the network said HMOs are still waiting to receive. The syringes are not included in the Pfizer vaccine packs and must be acquired separately, according to the report.
Health Ministry officials have turned to Israeli providers of medical supplies who have, in turn, asked providers in China. Millions of the needed syringes are making their way to Israel, Channel 12 reported, as other countries are also vying to acquire them.
‘This is our chance’
Earlier Saturday, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash urged all Israelis to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“I again call on everyone to be immunized when the vaccines arrive in the coming days. This is our chance to get out of this pandemic. Everyone go out to get vaccinated,” Ash said during a visit to the northern Druze town of Daliyat al-Karmel.
Ash expressed hope a “significant mass” of vaccines would arrive this month and said he reviewed all the data from the trials on Pfizer’s vaccine.
According to a Health Ministry plan, medical workers would be first to receive the vaccine, followed by the elderly. Those under 16, women who are pregnant, people with serious allergies, and Israelis who have recovered from COVID-19 won’t be vaccinated, according to reports in the Hebrew-language media earlier this week.
Channel 12 on Thursday said Levy was looking at the possibility of not closely policing the order of vaccination, as the public may at first be hesitant to get inoculated. If the ministry has enough doses and not enough public interest, officials may simply allow anyone who wishes to be vaccinated, the report said.
The expected approval by Israel of Pfizer’s vaccine comes as the country grapples with rising infection numbers, with officials weighing plans to tighten restrictions — and then backing down.
Daily infection numbers were at 1,818 on Friday, the Health Ministry said Saturday, with the daily caseload topping 1,800 for a third consecutive day.
As of late Saturday, there were 17,180 active cases, 331 people were in serious condition, 123 of them on ventilators. Over 77,000 tests were conducted on Friday, with 2.3 percent returning positive. Any rate above 1.0 indicates the spread of the pandemic is accelerating.
The death toll in Israel since the start of the pandemic stood at 2,979.