Israelis aged 40+ start receiving vaccines in race to halt record infections

Health minister orders providers to prepare to administer 250,000 shots per day; ministry recommends vaccines for pregnant and nursing women

A woman receives a coronavirus shot at a vaccination station on January 16, 2021 in the coastal city of Herzliya. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)
A woman receives a coronavirus shot at a vaccination station on January 16, 2021 in the coastal city of Herzliya. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

All Israelis aged 40 and up can now get a coronavirus vaccine, the Health Ministry announced Tuesday, with the rapid inoculation campaign gaining more steam in the hopes of overcoming record-high infections.

After reports said the Clalit and Maccabi health maintenance organizations were expanding vaccinations to include those aged 40+, the ministry said it had given approval to all four Israeli health providers to do so.

More than 80 percent of Israelis over the age of 70 have received at least one vaccine shot, along with 68% of those aged 60-69, 50% of those aged 50-59 and 28% of those aged 40-49.

In total, 2,185,289 people have received the first dose and 423,123 have received both, according to the Health Ministry.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein ordered health providers to prepare to administer up to 250,000 shots per day in the coming days, the ministry said.

The Health Ministry also published a statement by the Israel Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommending that vaccines be given to pregnant women and nursing mothers who are interested in getting it, particularly if they have COVID-19 risk factors and after consulting their doctors. It said the “only reason” there is no blanket recommendation to vaccinate pregnant women is that they were excluded from the vaccine companies’ trials.

The statement came against the backdrop of several cases of pregnant Israeli women becoming critically ill with COVID-19.

Ziv hospital team members transport a new patient at the coronavirus ward of the hospital in the northern city of Safed on January 7, 2020. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Israel confirmed more than 10,000 new coronavirus cases Monday for the first time since the pandemic began, despite the ongoing nationwide lockdown.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that a record 10,022 infections were confirmed the previous day, bringing the country’s total caseload since the start of the pandemic to 562,619, including 81,250 active cases.

The rate of positive tests passed the 10 percent mark for the first time in over three months, with 10.2% of the nearly 100,000 tests coming back positive.

There were 1,174 serious cases, including 356 in critical condition and 304 on ventilators. The death toll grew to 4,060.

Oxford University statistics cited by the Ynet news site indicated that Israel has been leading the world in new cases per capita over the past seven days, ahead of Portugal, Andorra, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Lebanon. However, that figure is affected by the fact that Israel conducted the fourth-highest number of COVID-19 tests per capita in the world over the same period.

A report by an IDF Military Intelligence Directorate task force reached a similar conclusion.

An empty beach in Tel Aviv during a nationwide lockdown, January 17, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The so-called coronavirus cabinet will convene Tuesday afternoon to decide whether to extend the current lockdown beyond Thursday. It is widely expected to be extended by at least a week, as a report Monday said ministers would be presented with a grim prediction of a potential renewed major outbreak in the coming months.

According to the prediction, reported by Channel 12 news, the rapid spread of the more infectious British mutated strain of the virus could cause a fourth wave of infections in March or April after the economy reopens. The scenario would see the new variant gaining dominance and being responsible for most, if not all, infections.

According to the prediction, even the relatively few members of risk groups that haven’t vaccinated could be enough to send hundreds of serious COVID-19 patients to already overcrowded hospital wards, which are currently under immense strain.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash told Radio 103FM on Tuesday that the infection rates were “scary,” but that the upward trend was starting to reverse.

“My prediction is that we will see a drop in the number of serious patients, but the strain on hospitals will continue,” he added. “The lockdown must be extended by two weeks.”

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