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Hundreds of COVID vaccines thrown away as inoculation push said ‘out of control’

Health Ministry blames local authorities for not doing enough to bring in people to be vaccinated, as 467 doses reportedly wasted in southern cities

A nurse prepares a vial of coronavirus vaccine in Jerusalem, December 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A nurse prepares a vial of coronavirus vaccine in Jerusalem, December 29, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

With millions of Israelis still waiting to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, the Health Ministry confirmed Tuesday that hundreds of doses of the Pfizer shot were thrown away a day earlier at vaccination centers in the south of the country set up as part of Israel’s mass inoculation drive.

According to Channel 13 news, a total of 467 doses were disposed of without being administered: 212 in the Negev town of Dimona, 165 in Sderot and 90 in Kiryat Gat.

Dimona Mayor Benny Biton said the town threw away the shots because the ministry did not initially accept his request to allow people under the age of 60 to receive the extra vaccines.

“It’s a scandal. I’m in favor of vaccinating people aged 65 [sic] and over first, but if they do not come, is it not a pity to throw away all vaccines?” he said.

The Health Ministry blamed Biton for wasting the shots, saying he didn’t do enough to bring in people to be vaccinated.

“Unfortunately in this case the ministry did not get the cooperation expected from the mayor of Dimona,” a statement from the ministry said.

Mayor of Dimona Benny Biton attends a conference in Tel Aviv, February February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“At the request of the mayor, and in order to avoid throwing away vaccine doses, the Ministry of Health exceptionally and immediately authorized the HMOs to vaccinate a non-priority population as well,” the ministry said, referring to an authorization it gave to a number of cities to vaccinate people below the age of 60 when they have surplus shots.

“From that moment on the mayor was expected to use all his abilities in the municipality to bring in 212 people out of the city of 40,000 inhabitants, just as was the case in other cities with similar cases,” the ministry said. “It seems that cooperation on the part of the mayor could have prevented the disposal of the vaccines.”

The Channel 13 report said that in some similar cases in the north, where municipalities have not been granted special permission, some health providers had been openly immunizing young people, with no regard for rules mandating that apart from special cases, only people over the age of 60 should get the shot.

Israel administered its 500,000th coronavirus vaccine shot Tuesday evening, crossing the milestone just over a week after the start of its vaccination campaign as figures show the Jewish state leading the world in its per capita immunization rate by a large margin.

Israel began its vaccination drive on December 20, focusing on healthcare workers, over 60s and at-risk groups.

Officials have said they aim to reach 150,000 vaccinations a day in the course of this week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has set a goal of having some 2.25 million Israelis out of a population of 9.2 million vaccinated by the end of January.

But despite the success, Channel 13 quoted Home Front Command sources as saying the campaign had gotten “out of control.”

“It was clear already from Thursday that a large amount of vaccines were likely to be thrown away,” one source told the channel, saying that the Health Ministry was pushing the vaccines faster than some municipalities were able handle.

According to the channel, following the publication of the report, the Health Ministry is now considering closing the specially designated vaccination centers and returning to administering vaccines only at health providers’ clinics.

Channel 12 said Monday night that Israel expects to receive a total of 3.8 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by Thursday — enough to vaccinate 1.9 million people, since the Pfizer vaccine is given in two shots, three weeks apart.

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