The Health Ministry gave approval Thursday to healthcare providers to extract up to six doses from vials of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine rather than the five currently permitted, according to Hebrew media reports.
The reported change could significantly increase Israel’s supply of the vaccine, allowing it to immunize a greater number of people. If all Pfizer vials set to reach Israel in the coming months have the extra dose, it could mean an additional 800,000 people can be vaccinated.
Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration confirmed some vials of Pfizer’s vaccine were overfilled and contained enough doses for seven people. It told health officials to use every full dose possible “given the public health emergency.”
Each dose is supposed to contain 0.3 milliliters of the vaccine. Each vial was supposed to contain five doses, but many have been found to have more.
Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, said Thursday that 180,000 Israelis had been vaccinated against the coronavirus over the past five days.
In a press briefing ahead of a nationwide lockdown set to begin Sunday, Levy said 40,000 had so far been vaccinated Thursday and that 65,000 received vaccines on Wednesday.
“The goal is to vaccinate at least four million people during the first quarter of 2021,” he said, according to the Ynet news website. “We have enough vaccines to do it, and I hope we’ll fulfill that goal.”
Levy also said Israelis won’t be prevented from getting inoculated during the lockdown.
According to the Oxford University-based Our World in Data website, Israel is second in the world in the number of people per capita to receive the vaccine, trailing Bahrain.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he hoped up to 100,000 Israelis would be vaccinated every day by next weekend, while Health Minister Yuli Edelstein instructed Levy to meet that goal by having healthcare providers administer vaccines 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“I want to tell you that the combination of the marvelous vaccine campaign on the one hand, and a short and quick lockdown on the other, will allow us to get out of the coronavirus [pandemic] and we’ll likely be the first country to get out of [it] in a few weeks,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
On Wednesday the Health Ministry said hospitals would begin administering vaccines to the public next week, joining the country’s health maintenance organizations that are leading the effort. A ministry statement said the move was aimed at “significantly” increasing the pace of the vaccine drive. It didn’t say how Israelis could schedule an appointment to be vaccinated at hospitals or provide any further details on the move as of yet.
The national vaccination program began on Sunday, with medical workers getting the first injections. Starting Monday, vaccinations were opened up to those aged 60 and up, as well as those in risk groups.
The government has not yet specified when the vaccines will be made available to the wider public.