Israel began administering COVID-19 vaccines to teenagers Saturday as it pushed ahead with its inoculation drive, with a quarter of the population now vaccinated, health officials said.
Since the rollout of vaccinations a month ago, some 2.5 million of Israel’s nine-million-strong population have been vaccinated already, the health ministry said on Friday.
Expanding the campaign to include teens in 11th and 12th grade came days after Israel, on Tuesday, extended its third national coronavirus lockdown until the end of the month due to a surge in coronavirus infections. The tightened lockdown measures had been set to expire Thursday night, but ministers agreed to extend the restrictions until January 31.
The Health Ministry on Friday reported a further decline in daily new coronavirus infections the day before, as Israel’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic appeared to ease following weeks of strict lockdown rules. Meanwhile, the country is also set to take fresh steps to attempt to curb the infections, including raising fines on rule-breakers and increasing limitations on international flights.
On Saturday, the Health Ministry said 7,316 new cases were confirmed the day before, after peaking at over 10,100 earlier in the week. The total number of infections recorded in Israel reached 593,578, as of Saturday.
The drop in daily cases came as testing levels also further decreased, though the positive test rate fell to 8.8 percent.
The death toll stood at 4,326, with 81 fatalities recorded Friday. The ministry said there were 76783 active cases, with 1,844 patients hospitalized for COVID-19. Of those, 1,171 were in serious condition, with 335 on ventilators.
On Thursday, the Health Ministry had announced it was allowing the inoculation of high school students aged 16-18, subject to parental approval. The vaccination of the teens is intended to allow them to return to schools and take their winter “bagrut” matriculation exams on schedule.
The country’s largest HMO, Clalit, was already giving teens shots as of Saturday morning, its website said, while the three smaller health maintenance organizations in Israel were due to kick off their campaigns later.
Israel began administering vaccines on December 20, beginning mainly with health professionals and quickly proceeding to the elderly, sick, and at-risk groups, continuously lowering the minimum age of those eligible to get the shot.
From Saturday, people aged 40 and up will also be allowed to get the vaccine.
According to the health ministry, as of Friday, nearly 2.5 million people had received the first of two doses, with 900,000 of them getting the second as well.
The country secured a huge stock of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and has pledged to share the impact data quickly with the US-German manufacturer.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the swift vaccination campaign “will afford us the possibility of overcoming the coronavirus, of emerging from it, of opening the economy and getting life back to routine.”