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Start of Israel’s vaccine drive moved up to December 23, HMOs told

Medical personnel to begin receiving inoculations on Sunday; TV says Israel currently has 313,000 doses from Pfizer, with 3.8 million expected by end of the month

An Israeli nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
An Israeli nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Monday told health maintenance organizations that Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination drive will kick off next week, with members of the general public to begin receiving vaccinations on December 23.

Medical personnel will begin to be vaccinated Sunday, according to Hebrew media reports.

Israelis over the age of 60 or who have preexisting conditions are expected to be vaccinated first, followed by the rest of the public.

The new expected start date for the vaccination campaign comes after officials indicated the December 27 target date announced last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be moved up, following the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Pfizer’s vaccine over the weekend.

Israel currently has 313,000 doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and is expected to have 3.8 million by the end of December, Channel 12 reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu watches the arrival of a plane transporting the first batch of Pfizer vaccines at Ben Gurion Airport on December 9, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

In light of the current tally, the report said most members of a Health Ministry advisory committee oppose administering vaccines to all Israelis from the get-go, due to concerns there won’t be enough doses for medical personnel and the elderly.

The network also reported that Netanyahu was expected to be vaccinated Saturday evening. The premier declared last week that he would be the first Israeli to receive the vaccine.

Israel has purchased millions of doses from Pfizer, the first batch of which arrived at Ben Gurion Airport last week.

The government has set a target of 60,000 vaccines a day once the drive begins, meaning two million Israelis would be vaccinated by the end of January.

Top officials told media outlets Sunday that the Health Ministry was planning to hand those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus a “green passport” that will grant a waiver of restrictions applied to curb the virus outbreak.

Among the rights for holders will be access to cultural events and eating at restaurants, and the right to not quarantine after exposure to a diagnosed virus carrier, they said. It will be issued two weeks after a person gets the second of the two shots required for the coronavirus.

The green passport would also enable travelers to fly abroad without having to first get a virus test, as is the current requirement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Channel 13.

Polls have shown that anywhere from 50 percent and 75% of Israelis are leery of getting the coronavirus vaccine shot, apparently out of fears that the rush to produce an inoculation may have compromised its safety.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, left, gives a press conference at a coronavirus vaccine center in Tel Aviv on December 13, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

The planned rollout of the vaccine comes as Israel grapples with a rising infection rate and passed the grim milestone of 3,000 coronavirus deaths earlier Monday.

According to the latest Health Ministry figures, there have been 1,444 new confirmed cases since midnight, raising the number of infections since the pandemic began to 359,070.

The ministry said 44,906 tests had been performed so far on Monday, with 3.2% coming back positive — a higher rate than in recent days, when it was between 2.4% and 2.9%.

A technician collects a swab sample from a woman at the coronavirus lab at Ben Gurion on December 14, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Of the 17,745 active cases, there were 375 people in serious condition, including 100 on ventilators. Another 146 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

A report by a military taskforce highlighted the rise in average confirmed daily cases, saying that over the previous seven days it was 1,758. Just three weeks ago, that number was around 750.

The Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said that given the current basic reproduction number of 1.15-1.2 (the average number of people each virus carrier infects), daily cases were expected to reach 2,500 on a weekly average by the end of December.

That number has been cited by officials as a threshold beyond which the government will start reimposing restrictions as part of a plan nicknamed “tightened restraint.”

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