The first delivery of Pfizer vaccines will arrive in Israel on Thursday, according to multiple Hebrew media reports on Monday evening.
The delivery will reportedly see some 100,000 doses arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, along with dozens of company representatives
According to Channel 12, the first delivery is something of a pilot program, to practice the transit and storage of the vaccines, which require storage at -70° C (-94° F) and must be used within five days of their removal from cold storage.
A national vaccine storage and distribution center has been set up in the southern Negev desert region where the millions of vaccines that Israel has ordered are to be warehoused and then sent around the country.
President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the reports, saying on Twitter that he was “ready.”
I was happy to hear that the first doses of vaccine are expected to arrive in #Israel in the next few days.
I'm ready, of course.
— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) December 7, 2020
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month that Israel had signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase eight million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate four million Israelis. Last week, it was reported that Israel was set to receive up to four million doses by the end of this month.
On Friday, Israel signed an agreement with Moderna to triple the number of vaccines the American pharmaceutical company will supply. The original agreement for two million doses was expanded to six million — enough for three million Israelis.
The combined five million vaccines would be enough to inoculate over half of Israel’s population of nine million.
Israel is also in talks with other companies to obtain their vaccines and is working at a slower pace on its own home-produced immunization.
Given the imminent arrival, the Health Ministry on Sunday asked the country’s health maintenance organizations to prepare plans to inoculate two million people against the coronavirus within a six-week period, when enough vaccines are available.
However, the country’s four health funds may be hard-pressed to keep to such a fast pace. The largest, Clalit, has the capacity to vaccinate 40,000 people a day, Maccabi 25,000, Meuhedet 10,000 and Leumit 7,000, for a total capacity of only about 80,000 a day, the report by the Kan public broadcaster said.
On Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces offered to help out with distributing the vaccine, citing the military’s logistical know-how. However, the HMOs strongly oppose the idea, according to the report.
Even when the vaccine arrives, officials fear large swaths of the public may be averse to receiving the shots. Polls in Israel and abroad have shown that many fear that the extraordinarily fast approval process for the vaccines may make them less safe.
The first Israelis expected to be vaccinated are those working in medical services, the elderly and people at especially high risk.
At a cabinet meeting Sunday, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s acting head of public health, warned ministers that while the administration of vaccines will begin in the next few weeks, it will be months before they can be expected to have a real impact.
“The arrival of the doses and vaccination on a significant scale will only occur in March,” she said, according leaks from the meeting. “This is assuming they are effective and the public responds.”
A month-long lockdown begun in September — Israel’s second since the start of the outbreak — has gradually been rolled back but virus cases have again risen, gaining an ever-more rapid rate of infection.
Health officials have increasingly warned Israel is facing an imminent third wave of coronavirus infections, with Edelstein reportedly telling associates Sunday that the country was in danger of entering a third lockdown if action is not taken within days to curb the outbreak.