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Israel expands vaccination drive to anyone 50 years and up

Move announced hours after anyone 55-plus was made eligible for shots, as country continues to lead world in immunization rate with over one in five given first dose

A healthcare worker administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to people at the Maccabi Health Services drive-in vaccination center, in the northern coastal city of Haifa, on January 11, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
A healthcare worker administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to people at the Maccabi Health Services drive-in vaccination center, in the northern coastal city of Haifa, on January 11, 2021. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

Israelis age 50 and up will be eligible for coronavirus vaccinations through their health care providers starting Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced Tuesday, expanding its world-leading drive as nationwide COVID-19 infections reached a new peak.

Those in the eligible group can begin booking appointments immediately, the ministry said.

The announcement came hours after the country began offering shots to anyone 55 and up, after kicking off the vaccination drive last month by offering the vaccine to anyone 60 and over, as well as health care workers and at-risk groups.

Over 1.8 million people have been given at least one of two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, according to Health Ministry figures. With over a fifth of the population of 9 million vaccinated, the country has the highest immunization rate in the world, according to data compiled by Oxford University.

The tally of those vaccinated includes many people younger than 55, as health officials have prioritized flexibility and thrift in making sure shots don’t go to waste and given them to people without appointments and outside of the eligibility criteria at times.

According to official data, over 295,000 Israelis between the ages of 50 and 59, or 35 percent of the population in that age group, have already been vaccinated as of Tuesday morning. Over 1 million people aged 60 and up, or 73 percent of the population in that group, have gotten the shot.

Israeli citizens stand in line to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, in Ramle. January 7, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

By late March, Israel will have vaccinated 5.2 million citizens against the coronavirus, according to a plan drawn up by the Health Ministry to bring an end to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most shots will come from Pfizer, which is expected to send millions of doses to Israel in the coming weeks.

The number of new people receiving a first dose of the shot has slowed considerably in recent days, with only 21,611 people given the shots on Monday, down from a high of over 150,000 on the last day of December.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Sunday that Israel would ramp up its vaccine drive back up to 170,000 shots a day, as a new batch of hundreds of thousands of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine touched down at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Israeli police at a temporary roadblock by the beach promenade in Tel Aviv, during a nationwide lockdown. January 11, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Despite the quick vaccine rollout, the country is also battling a resurgent third wave of the virus. The daily virus caseload reached its highest level ever Monday, with 9,613 new cases diagnosed, according to ministry figures released Tuesday morning.

The number of positive virus tests climbed to 7.6% out of 126,717 tests returned Monday.

There are 73,966 active patients in the country, of which 1,071 are in serious condition, ministry data showed. Since the start of the outbreak 504,888 people in the country have been diagnosed with the coronavirus with 3,723 fatalities.

The government on Friday tightened a national lockdown, shuttering all schools except for special education institutes. Most stores and public venues have been ordered shut and movement is limited to one kilometer from home except for essential needs.

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