Moderna to ship 100,000 vaccine doses to Israel this week — reports

Health officials said to indicate US biotech firm ready to start deliveries, despite earlier denial by Health Minister Edelstein

Illustrative: A COVID-19 vaccine is administered in Jerusalem, January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: A COVID-19 vaccine is administered in Jerusalem, January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Health Ministry officials said Tuesday night the first shipment of Moderna vaccine doses will arrive in Israel this week, according to multiple Hebrew media reports.

The initial shipment will be a small one, of 100,000 shots, and will likely arrive on Thursday, the reports said. There was no word on when further shipments could be expected.

The arrival of the vaccine from the US biotech firm has been the subject of conflicting information in recent days. Last week, reports said it would send one million vaccines to Israel in the coming week — which the Health Ministry refused to confirm.

On Monday, the company said it would start delivering doses this month, a claim then confirmed by the director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry, Chezy Levy.

Confusingly, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said later that the first batches wouldn’t arrive in Israel for another two months. He said “we’ll be happy” if Moderna begins shipping vaccines to Israel sooner, but stressed that ministry officials had no indication that was the case. The reason for the discrepancy was unclear.

Moderna said Monday that Israel had ordered 6 million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate 3 million people. The Massachusetts-based firm was initially supposed to begin deliveries to Israel in March.

Israel’s vaccination campaign is in full swing, even as the country grapples with a surge in cases and is set to enter a more stringent lockdown later this week.

Israel has been vaccinating some 150,000 people a day with Pfizer’s shot since its vaccination campaign began on December 20, with a focus on elderly people, at-risk groups and healthcare workers. The healthcare system is reportedly facing a shortage of doses that will force health providers to slow the pace of new inoculations, however.

Health officials have said the country will prioritize second doses in the coming weeks, and that there are enough vaccines to supply those doses to everyone who has received a first dose.

A healthcare worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel has inoculated some 1.5 million people and leads the world per capita in vaccinations. Channel 12 News reported Tuesday that 55 percent of Israelis over the age of 60 have received the first vaccine dose, and that 65% of all people to get the shot so far in Israel are over 60.

Meanwhile, Sheba Medical Center outside Tel Aviv said Tuesday that a review has shown 50% of its workers have developed antibodies since they received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine some two weeks ago. The hospital has been conducting serological testing on workers who were administered the first dose to track the antibody response.

The vaccine is expected to reach 95% efficacy only a week after administration of the second dose.

There has been some concern over whether the current vaccines are effective against the new British and South African variants of the virus, believed to be more infectious than the most common strain.

Vaccine manufacturers have said they believe the vaccines will be able to fight the new mutations, though they are still awaiting official data on the matter.

Former Health Ministry director-general Gabi Barbash told Channel 12 Tuesday the vaccines were likelier than not to provide protection against the new variants.

“If not, if [the vaccine] proves a little less effective, it will take about six weeks to update it and manufacture [the updated] vaccine,” he said.

Vaccines are routinely updated, he said. “The flu shot is updated every year.”

At least 189 confirmed cases of the British strain have been identified in Israel, though it is believed to be far more spread out. The South African variant has not yet been identified in Israel.

People walk past a vaccination center in Jerusalem, January 4, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday blamed the British variant for Israel’s surge in cases.

“We are in the midst of a global epidemic that is spreading at record speed with the British mutation. It has reached Israel and claimed many lives,” he said.

Overshadowing Israel’s relatively successful vaccine rollout, cases have continued to surge, causing health officials to issue dire warnings about the country’s severe third-wave outbreak.

Daily infections have passed 8,000 a day for the first time in months.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday evening that there were 58,932 active virus cases, with 8,371 infections confirmed the previous day, the highest daily increase since over 9,000 new infections were recorded on September 30, when the country was under a second national lockdown.

Along with another 6,633 cases since midnight, the number of infections since the pandemic began rose to 456,139.

The death toll stood at 3,489, with seven Israelis dying from COVID-19 on Tuesday.

Top hospital officials said Monday they were seeing a sharp rise in COVID-19 patients requiring hospitalization and warned Israel was entering the worst wave of the coronavirus pandemic yet. Edelstein told ministers Monday that Israel was heading toward the same fate as Italy, which last year was one of the worst-affected countries and has so far suffered some 75,000 COVID-19 deaths.

Government ministers voted Tuesday night in favor of tightening the current nationwide lockdown by shuttering schools and nonessential businesses for two full weeks.

The increased measures will come into force on midnight between Thursday and Friday and last for 14-days, according to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry.

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