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Nearly 30,000 vaccinated in first two days of drive; 270,000 book appointments

Health minister says vaccinations now to begin in old-age homes; call centers continue to be swamped

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visit the Teva Pharmaceuticals' logistics center in Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines are set to be stored and distributed, November 26, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visit the Teva Pharmaceuticals' logistics center in Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines are set to be stored and distributed, November 26, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Nearly 30,000 people have already been vaccinated against the coronavirus, two days into Israel’s mass inoculation program, Health Minster Yuli Edelstein announced Tuesday as he urged the public to get the shots.

Edelstein said that later in the day the first vaccinations would be carried out in old-age homes. The government has not yet specified when the vaccines will be made available to the general public.

“In the first two days we vaccinated nearly 30,000 people and demand is on the rise,” Edelstein said in a statement.

“I call on the public to go and get vaccinated,” said Edelstein, who received his shot in front of live cameras on Saturday night.

The national vaccination program began on Sunday, with medical workers getting the first injections. Starting Monday vaccinations were opened up to those aged 60 and up.

Over the course of Monday some 11,000 people were given injections, Haaretz reported. The vaccines come as two shots administered three weeks apart, meaning all those who have already had an injection will need to come back for a second one.

An Israeli citizen receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, on December 21, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Injections were give at 70 sites across the country that were mostly open for 12 hours, and while HMOs reported that the operation was running smoothly, call centers for booking vaccination appointments continued to be swamped, with some people saying they had to wait up to two hours before getting through.

“I am aware of the problems booking appointments,” Edelstein said Monday during a situation assessment at his office. “They stem from the incredible demand of citizens who understand the importance of inoculation. We brought the vaccination campaign forward by a week knowing that there may be mishaps, in order to enable the fastest possible vaccination.”

Nonetheless, so far 270,000 people have managed to book appointments, Haaretz reported.

The Health Ministry plans that by next week there will be 196 vaccination points at HMO clinics and in hospitals.

Clalit Health Services, which counts half of the population as its members, already operates 20 sites that have vaccinated 6,400 people. Within two weeks it hopes to ramp up the number of sites to 80 and in the following weeks to 400, according to the report.

The vaccination program comes as the Health Ministry announced Tuesday morning that 3,594 new coronavirus cases had been diagnosed the previous day, the highest total in months, leading to increased talk of a third national lockdown. The number of infections in Israel since the start of the pandemic reached 380,095. The death toll stood at 3,111.

A further concern, shared by country’s around the world, is that of a mutated strain of the virus that is said to be far more contagious, although not more lethal.

Health officials, among them Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy, have said it is quite likely that the mutated form is already in the country, though there is no evidence that the vaccination is not effective against the strain.

Earlier this week Israel banned entry into the country for foreign citizens arriving from Britain, South Africa and Denmark, three countries where a new virus strain has been detected. In addition, all Israelis arriving from abroad must now quarantine at state-operated and specifically designated hotels.

The government is also considering banning all international arrivals due to the mutated strain.

Israel’s vaccination program, which began with the Pfizer product and will later on also use the shot developed by Moderna, aims to eventually inoculate 60,000 people a day and a total of two million by the end of January.

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