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IDF to launch vaccination operation in bid to inoculate 6,000 by week’s end

Military allocated 50,000 doses, to first be given to medical staff, at-risk troops and top officers before distribution to all members

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

An officer stands in front of a vaccination center at Military Intelligence's Gelilot Base north of Tel Aviv in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)
An officer stands in front of a vaccination center at Military Intelligence's Gelilot Base north of Tel Aviv in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces is planning to launch its vaccination drive on Monday, with the goal of beginning to inoculate 6,000 servicemembers by the end of the week, the military spokesperson said Sunday.

Hidai Zilberman told reporters that while the military’s internal vaccination effort will begin Monday, the bulk of the operation will only get going in a few weeks when larger numbers of vaccine doses become available.

Currently, the Health Ministry, which is leading the national vaccination effort, has allocated 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the IDF, enough for 25,000 people, as each full course of the vaccine requires two shots.

“We hope to vaccinate 17,000 people by the end of next week,” the spokesman said.

According to Zilberman, the military’s initial focus will be on vaccinating its medical personnel who are actively taking part in the pandemic response and soldiers with health issues that put them at risk, followed by top officers in IDF high command and certain units that may require the vaccine in order to maintain full combat readiness, such as submarine crews, which operate in close quarters.

Once those critical units have been vaccinated, the military will move to servicemembers over the age of 40 and combat units and then the rest of the IDF.

“The prioritization, which was approved by the chief of staff, is meant to ensure a normal internal routine for the IDF and to prevent harm to the fitness of critical systems needed for the IDF’s operations. We believe that within the next few weeks — not too many — we will be able to start vaccinating all servicemembers, as it seems will also happen in Israeli society,” Zilberman said.

He said the military hopes to vaccinate the majority of its personnel within the next few months.

Zilberman said the top brass — members of the IDF General Staff and a small number of other senior officers — were being vaccinated as a “personal example” to soldiers, in order to convince them of the need to be inoculated. The IDF will not force soldiers to receive the vaccination and instead plans to encourage it through a wide public relations campaign.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi received the first round of the vaccine last Sunday, shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and alongside President Reuven Rivlin.

In order to perform the vaccinations, the IDF has established six main inoculation centers, with plans to set up 11 more going forward. Vaccination centers were set up in the main clinics of the Northern, Central and Southern Commands; in the Israeli Air Force’s Palmachim Base in center of the country; in Military Intelligence’s Gelilot Base north of Tel Aviv; and in the Israeli Navy’s logistics base in Haifa.

In addition, vaccination teams will travel directly to large military bases, wherever there are more than 1,000 soldiers serving, in order to perform the injections on site.

Though in recent weeks the country has seen a significant outbreak of the coronavirus, prompting the government to order a national lockdown, the military has not been hit nearly as hard.

As of Sunday afternoon, 521 soldiers, officers and civilian employees of the IDF were active carriers of the disease — all of them with light symptoms — and another 5,636 were in quarantine, the military said.

In the country at large, there were over 35,000 active cases, 584 of them in serious condition, according to the Health Ministry.

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