Elderly Israelis and at-risk populations can now reserve doctor’s appointments to receive a vaccine against the coronavirus, ten months after the pandemic first reached the country.
Health maintenance organizations (HMOs) on Thursday afternoon started notifying Israelis aged over 60 and at-risk populations that they can book appointments to get vaccinated starting Monday, a day after the country starts administering coronavirus shots to front-line health workers.
Members of the Maccabi and Meuhedet HMOs could reserve appointments starting Thursday. Clalit will open reservations on Friday and Leumit will do so Sunday.
Every patient will have two appointments scheduled, 21 days apart, and will be considered vaccinated only after receiving the second dose.
Maccabi, Meuhedet and Clalit will begin vaccinations for the public on Monday, two days ahead of the initial schedule. Leumit will stick to Wednesday as previously planned.
Maccabi’s website crashed Thursday shortly after reservations were opened to the public, underlining the high demand by at-risk Israelis.
According to the Ynet news site, partners of those at risk can also be vaccinated, even if they themselves do not meet any of the requirements.
The first Israeli to receive the vaccine will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose office confirmed Thursday that he and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will be inoculated Saturday evening at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. Netanyahu is 71 and Edelstein 62.
The event, which will be broadcast live, is aimed at “encouraging the Israeli public to get the vaccine,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement, adding that Netanyahu will thus become one of the first world leaders to get the vaccine.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday released a detailed list of who from the general public would be inoculated first when the main vaccine drive kicks off on Sunday.
Topping the list starting Sunday are hospital workers, followed by employees of HMOs, private health clinics, and dental offices; medical and nursing students taking part in clinical rounds; members of Magen David Adom and other ambulance services; and residents and caregivers at senior living homes.
Certain members of the general public will start getting vaccinated on Monday or Wednesday, including those in risk groups and anyone over 60.
Next will be Israelis working in jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus, such as teachers, social workers, first responders, and prison staff (prisoners will also get priority); and Israel Defense Forces soldiers and other security personnel.
Last will come the rest of the population, with a timeline depending on how many doses arrive in Israel and the level of demand by the priority groups. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that if there is a surplus of doses, the general public will be permitted to get the vaccine sooner.
The government set a target of 60,000 vaccinations a day once the drive begins, meaning two million Israelis could be vaccinated by the end of January.
Along with some four million doses from Pfizer expected to arrive by the end of the month, Channel 12 said Wednesday 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 network said Moderna’s vaccine, which could receive emergency approval from US regulators within days, as well as a vaccine being produced by AstraZeneca, are not expected to arrive in Israel earlier than April.
The vaccine drive comes as the government was said to be mulling new restrictions on the public, given rising infection numbers.
Israel is contending with a marked rise in new COVID-19 cases, with infections surging to almost 3,000 on Tuesday and Wednesday, the highest caseloads in over two months.
The government-set benchmark for reimposing restrictions is an average of 2,500 daily cases over an entire week or a basic reproduction number of over 1.32. That figure was at 1.27 last week, according to the Health Ministry. Any value over one means the virus infection rate is increasing.