Medical staff and over 65s first: Report lays out Israel’s vaccination plan

Five-stage proposal, which has yet to be confirmed, would reportedly see teachers, prisoners, pregnant women and babies receive shot before general population

A nurse prepares a shot in a study of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. in Binghamton, New York, July 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)
A nurse prepares a shot in a study of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc. in Binghamton, New York, July 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Israel is planning on vaccinating the public in five stages, beginning with healthcare workers, according to a television report on Wednesday, as a top health official confirmed the first doses could arrive in December.

According to Channel 12, the government’s preliminary vaccination program will see medical staff first get the shot, followed by people aged 65 and up and at-risk groups, workers who regularly come into contact with the public, teachers and prisoners, pregnant women and babies, workers at retirement homes, and then the rest of the population.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy on Wednesday said most of the vaccine shipments would arrive in the first half of 2021, but said a first batch could come as early as December, seemingly shoring up an unconfirmed television report on Monday.

Levy said the ministry was working on delineating “ethically, legally and medically” which populations should first be served a coronavirus vaccine, with the government’s plan set to be publicized next week.

Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy during a press conference in Jerusalem about the coronavirus on July 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 had reported that Israel is expected to receive up to half a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus as early as December, one month earlier than originally hoped for. According to the unsourced report, the country would receive anywhere between 200,000 and 500,000 doses of the vaccine and will devote them primarily to those working in the medical field, while the general population would not be vaccinated this winter.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase coronavirus vaccine shots, days after the US pharmaceutical firm said data suggested its vaccine was 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19.

As part of the agreement with Pfizer, Netanyahu said Israel would receive 8 million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate 4 million Israelis. Netanyahu expressed hope that Pfizer would begin supplying the vaccine in January, pending authorization from health officials in the United States and Israel.

Pursuing another avenue to procure vaccines, Netanyahu announced Friday that Israel was also close to signing a deal with AstraZeneca to purchase “millions” of doses of its vaccine.

Aner Ottolenghi receives the Israeli-developed Coronavirus vaccination at the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem on November 1, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

If signed, it would be the third deal signed by Israel to receive vaccinations, following similar deals with Pfizer and Moderna. Israel has also been in talks with Russia to receive its Sputnik V vaccine, though some experts have questioned its opaque certification process.

However, none of the deals guarantees a deadline for the arrival of the vaccines, and with mass global demand, it is still not clear how many doses Israel will get, and when.

Israel has also been working on a home-grown vaccine, though it is currently only in phase 1 trials and its development is expected to take months longer than the foreign candidates. Channel 12 reported Friday that it will likely be available to the public this summer.

Polls have also signaled widespread skepticism about the vaccine, with one survey signaling most do not want to receive the shot when it’s first rolled out.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday said 835 new virus cases were diagnosed a day earlier, bringing the number of active cases over 9,000. It said 285 people were in serious condition, 110 of them on ventilators. Another 76 were in moderate condition with the rest displaying mild or no symptoms. The death toll stood at 2,826. The ministry said nearly 60,000 tests were conducted on Tuesday and said 1.4% came back positive.

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