Israel will begin vaccinating its citizenry against coronavirus on December 27 and will be able to inoculate 60,000 people a day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
At a press conference following the arrival of a preliminary batch of Pfizer’s vaccines, the prime minister stated: “On the eve of Hanukkah, we’ve brought a great light to Israel,” adding that the end of the pandemic was in sight.
Earlier in the day, the first batch of Pfizer vaccine doses landed in Israel. “Tomorrow another shipment is arriving, a much larger one,” Netanyahu said.
“I’m asking that every Israeli citizen be vaccinated, and to do so, have requested to set an example and be the first person being vaccinated in Israel,” he said, repeating a similar statement from earlier in the day.
Netanyahu also said the Health Ministry was working on developing a “green passport.”
“Whoever receives a vaccination will be able to show a certificate or application that would enable entry to events, malls and all kinds of services.
“This will encourage vaccinations and help return us to normalcy quickly,” he said.
Touting his achievement in securing the vaccines’ swift arrival, Netanyahu said: “It’s not to be taken for granted that Israel, which is… a small country with 9 million citizens should receive the vaccines at the same time as Britain and the leading countries in the world. “This is a great achievement for Israel, I am very proud of it.”
At a rate of 60,000 shots a day, it would take some five months to vaccinate all of Israel’s 9 million citizens, provided there was a steady supply of shots — which is not a given. The Health Ministry is expected to unveil a plan next week outlining who will first receive the vaccine first. At-risk groups, healthcare workers and the elderly are expected to be at the front of the line.
While reiterating the need to keep up with “masks, distancing, hygiene and preventing gatherings,” Netanyahu was nonetheless upbeat.
“We’re bringing an end to the plague,” he said.
Israel’s first batch of Pfizer vaccines was flown in on Wednesday as the country began to gear up for a mass vaccination effort to bring the coronavirus pandemic under control. The DHL plane landed from Brussels carrying a cargo of between 3,000 and 4,000 doses of the vaccine in an initial delivery, reportedly to test out transit and storage procedures, with hundreds of thousands more set to arrive on Thursday.
The vaccines must be stored at -70°C (-94°F) and used within five days of their removal from cold storage.
Earlier, Netanyahu, in a speech at Ben Gurion Airport, said that he would be the first person in Israel to receive the coronavirus vaccine as part of a campaign to encourage inoculation.
“What’s important to me is that people of Israel get vaccinated. I believe in this vaccine. I want the people of Israel to get vaccinated and so I will be first,” Netanyahu said.
On Tuesday evening Netanyahu spoke with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and thanked him for the assistance in securing the vaccine as well as reaching an agreement on further supplies, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement without providing any further details on quantities.
Netanyahu announced last month that Israel had signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase eight million doses of the vaccine, enough to inoculate four million Israelis. Last week, it was reported that Israel was set to receive up to four million doses by the end of this month.
Israel also has agreements with Moderna and AstraZeneca and is producing its own homegrown vaccine.
The US Food and Drug Administration will review Pfizer’s trial data later this week. If it approves the vaccine for use, Israeli officials are expected to give it their okay.
A national vaccine storage and distribution center has been set up in the southern Negev desert region, where the millions of doses of vaccines that Israel has ordered are to be warehoused and then sent around the country.
The shipment came a day after the United Kingdom became the first country in the Western world to begin a mass vaccination program using the Pfizer vaccine.
The first vaccine shipments come as Israel is dealing with ballooning infections, and are unlikely to affect overall policy on the pandemic in the short term.
The virus has infected 349,916 Israelis, killing 2,934 people, according to a Wednesday update.
As of Wednesday night, there were 15,121 active cases in the country, with 316 patients in serious condition including 106 on ventilators. There were 105 people in moderate condition, with the remainder showing mild or no symptoms.
The data was released a day after the country recorded its highest number of daily coronavirus cases in almost two months on Monday, as runaway infections upended the country’s gains during its second national lockdown and threatened to bring a third crashing down.
The positivity rate for test results coming back Tuesday was 2.5 percent of 68,464 tests conducted, a rise over last week, when that figure was closer to 2% on average.