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Over 3 million receive 1st vaccine shot, but COVID outbreak still raging

Vaccination rate highest among 70- to 79-year-olds, with 92% having received 1st dose, even as Israel struggles to contain third wave of the virus

People receive a Covid-19 vaccine injection, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )
People receive a Covid-19 vaccine injection, at Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 28, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 )

Israel has administered a first vaccine dose to over 3 million of its 9.3 million citizens, the Health Ministry reported Sunday, as the country’s inoculation campaign continues to lead the world in vaccinations per capita, even while it struggles to contain a third outbreak of the virus despite a weeks-long national lockdown.

According to figures released by the ministry, 3,005,382 people, 32.61 percent of Israel’s total population, have received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, while 1,728,625 people have received the second dose — 18.76% of the population.

The data showed that the rate of vaccinations was the highest among those aged 70 to 79, with 92% of that age group having received the first dose and 79.9% also having been given the second.

For Israelis over 90, 87.6% had received the dose and 74.4% had received the second. In the 80 to 89 age group, the figures were at 85% for the first dose and 72.8% for the second; for 60- to 69-year-olds, 75% and 61.2%.

Figures also showed that 63.6% of 50- to 59-year-olds had received the first dose of vaccine, 50.1% of 40- to 49-year-olds, 27.9% of 30- to 39-year-olds and 22.1% of 20- to 29-year-olds.

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection in Jerusalem on January 28, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel’s mass vaccination program kicked off by giving the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech shots to medical workers, those over age 60, and at-risk groups. As the drive has raced ahead the age limit has steadily dropped, going down to 35 this week. Vaccination has also already been opened to teachers of all ages and pregnant women.

In addition, many vaccination centers have been offering shots to all who want them at the end of each day in order to prevent extra vaccine units, which must be used within a set amount of time, from going to waste.

The government has set a goal of inoculating the entire over-16 population by late March.

At the same time as the ambitious vaccine drive pushes ahead, the Health Ministry also reported Sunday that 10% of the 26,000 coronavirus tests carried out on Saturday had come back positive.

There have now been a total of 640,644 coronavirus cases in the country, including 72,026 active cases. Of the 1,814 people hospitalized with the virus, 1,162 were defined as serious cases, with 383 in critical condition and 298 on ventilators.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 4,745 coronavirus patients have died, 23 of them on Saturday. More than 25 percent of Israel’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic have been registered this month alone.

With the cabinet set to meet Sunday evening, the Health Ministry is expected to seek a week-long extension of the nationwide lockdown, according to media reports Saturday night. The Knesset will also convene on Sunday afternoon to vote on a bill that will raise fines for lockdown violators, paving the way for the extension of the nationwide closure.

Police officers check cars at a checkpoint during a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The lockdown, now entering its fourth week, is currently set to end overnight Sunday. Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party has said it will not approve extending the lockdown until the bill on raising fines is passed into law, amid a lack of enforcement in ultra-Orthodox areas leading to gross violations of the health guidelines.

When the cabinet does convene, opinions are divided on how many days to add to the closure, which has shuttered all non-essential businesses and the education system, with the exception of special education institutes.

While the Health Ministry reportedly wants to add another week, ending the closure after the weekend to take advantage of two days when much of the country would not be at work anyway, some ministers prefer an extension of just a few days.

In addition, the Health Ministry is reportedly opposed to suggestions that some aspects of the lockdown be eased, in particular by reopening parts of the education system and certain commercial activities.

According to Channel 12, health officials are considering a plan to begin reopening preschools and grades 1-3 next Sunday, February 7.

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