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Record 152,000 vaccinated in a day, but new cases hit highest rate in months

Health minister says Israel nearing 650,000 COVID-19 shots administered; virus czar warns of slowdown if more doses don’t arrive soon

People wait to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, December 29, 2020 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
People wait to receive a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, December 29, 2020 (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

The Health Ministry on Wednesday said 152,000 coronavirus vaccines were administered the day before, even as Israel recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 cases since early October, in Israel’s race between virus and vaccine.

Government officials had set a goal of vaccinating 150,000 Israelis per day by the end of the week.

“On the way to a million vaccinated!” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tweeted. “Close to 650,000 in total.”

Israel has ramped up its vaccination campaign amid a third national lockdown, which took effect on Sunday evening to curb a resurgence in infections.

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Rehovot on December 29, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said 5,583 new coronavirus cases were confirmed Tuesday, the highest daily increase since early October, during the second lockdown.

Along with another 571 cases since midnight, the number of COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began rose to 414,447.

There were 40,929 active cases, including 609 people in serious condition, with 154 on ventilators. Another 169 Israelis were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.

A Maccabi Healthcare Services worker handles a test sample at a coronavirus testing site in Modiin, on December 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The death toll stood at 3,292.

The test positivity rate further climbed, with 5.7 percent of the 97,395 tests performed Wednesday coming back positive.

“It takes 10 days to see what this lockdown does,” Chezy Levy, the director-general of the Health Ministry, told Kan public radio.

Levy acknowledged the lockdown wasn’t as strict as the previous ones, but warned of a sharp rise in morbidity if restrictions are eased.

“At the moment we can’t go back to life before [the lockdown],” he said.

Levy also lamented low vaccination rates among Arab Israelis.

“Five percent of the vaccinated are from the Arab community — we’ll expand the outreach there. In the ultra-Orthodox community the situation is better. We’re focusing our efforts on vaccinating the periphery,” he said, referring to towns in the north and south of the country. He added that it had become possible to offer vaccinations in places with small populations, a day after hundreds of doses were tossed.

A nurse holds coronavirus vaccines at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem, December 19, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said the lockdown may need to be tightened and warned of a possible slowdown in the pace of the vaccination campaign.

“We’re making a great effort to bring forward the next shipments so no gap is created. If the shipments don’t arrive earlier, this is a possibility and it is worrying,” Ash told the Ynet news site.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash visits the Ziv hospital in Safed, December 24, 2020 (David Cohen/Flash90)

However, Sharon Elroy-Preis, acting head of the public health services division, played down concerns about a potential shortage of vaccines.

“We’re in a routine process of receiving airlifts of vaccines from Pfizer to ensure it continues like this,” Elroy-Preis told Kan.

She touted the capacity of hospitals to administer vaccines, after they joined health maintenance organizations (HMOs) this week in inoculating the general public, and said the ministry wants to hand out special documents to those who have been vaccinated.

“We want to open the economy with a green passport so that there will be as many people vaccinated as possible,” Elroy-Preis said.

Closed shops are seen in downtown Jerusalem on December 29, 2020, during a third national lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel began its vaccination drive on December 20, focusing on healthcare workers, over 60s and some at-risk groups.

Officials set a goal of reaching 150,000 vaccinations a day in the course of this week, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is aiming for some 2.25 million Israelis out of a population of 9.2 million to be vaccinated by the end of January.

But despite the success, Channel 13 news quoted Home Front Command sources as saying the campaign had gotten “out of control.”

“It was clear already from Thursday that a large number of vaccines were likely to be thrown away,” one source told the channel, saying that the Health Ministry was pushing the vaccines faster than some municipalities were able to handle.

According to the channel, following the publication of the report, the Health Ministry is now considering closing the specially created vaccination centers and returning to administering vaccines only at health providers’ clinics.

Channel 12 said Monday night that Israel expects to receive a total of 3.8 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine by Thursday — enough to vaccinate 1.9 million people, since the Pfizer vaccine is given in two shots, three weeks apart.

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