Mobile vaccination units arrived on Israel’s beaches on Saturday, hours ahead of the deadline for teens to get their first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine as the expiration date loomed.
“In recent days we have witnessed an increase in morbidity, and in order to protect the children and prevent further outbreaks, we call on the youth to come and get vaccinated,” incoming head of the Maccabi HMO, Sigal Dadon-Levy, told the Walla news site.
“To encourage vaccination and make it easier for teenagers who want to get inoculated, we are sending vaccination units to their favorite entertainment venue — the beach.”
All the health funds said that they would be operating vaccination centers across the country into the late hours of the evening. A number of municipalities have incentivized young people to get inoculated with offers of free ice cream and tickets to entertainment venues.
Israel’s existing stock of Pfizer vaccines will expire at the end of July.
Thus, children aged 12-15 who do not get their first dose by Saturday will not be able to get their second dose three weeks later, and will be forced to wait until the next Pfizer batch arrives.
Meanwhile, people over the age of 16 will be able to continue to be vaccinated with Moderna’s vaccine, which has not yet been approved for use for the under-16 age group.
However, outgoing Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told the Kan public broadcaster on Saturday that officials were hoping to secure another shipment of Pfizer vaccines next month so that the inoculation of teens could continue.
According to Walla news, some 29 percent of the 12-15 age group have been vaccinated, along with some 11% who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered. This brings the immunity rate to some 40% — below the 50% the Health Ministry had hoped for.
Levy said that despite the target not having been reached, there was satisfaction in the Health Ministry that the campaign had been relatively successful.
“We started the campaign with 23% of children aged 10-19 [inoculated] and today we are at 40% vaccinated. It’s not what we wanted but it is still a lot and I believe we will continue when we replenish vaccine stocks,” Levy said.
Israel’s vaccination campaign is currently only open to ages 12 and up. Officials okayed the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds in early June, but authorities only began encouraging vaccinations for the age group at the end of last month in response to rising case numbers.
Israel had been scrambling to use up or trade away over 1 million doses of the vaccine that expire at the end of July.
Earlier this week a plane carrying some 700,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine took off for South Korea, as part of a deal that will see Seoul send fresh vaccines in exchange later in the year.
Those doses are also set to expire by month’s end, and Korean officials have quickly moved to dispatch them to distribution centers.
The deal came weeks after the Palestinian Authority backed out of a similar agreement, saying the vaccine doses were too close to their expiration date, despite Israel using the same batches to vaccinate its teens.
Vaccination has taken on renewed urgency around the world amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, first identified in India.
In Israel on Friday evening, active cases stood at 3,793 and the death toll since the start of the pandemic held at 6,434. The number of seriously ill patients, currently seen as the main factor by decision-makers, has been slowly rising and was at 40 Friday.
The resurgence of the virus due to the Delta variant has become a major issue for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government, coming less than two months after cases dwindled as a result of mass vaccination, allowing Israel to lift most restrictions and reopen public life.
The variant is thought to be more capable of infecting even vaccinated individuals, though in most cases it causes only mild illness for the inoculated.