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Israel aims to vaccinate 25% of population in a month; 250,000 had shots so far

Netanyahu says he wants pace of inoculations to hit 150,000 a day; another 5,433 virus cases found, day before 3rd lockdown; Health Minister intends to vaccinate teachers this week

A Clalit healthcare worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv on December 22, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A Clalit healthcare worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv on December 22, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday he sought to reach a vaccination rate of around 150,000 people a day within a week, and to have inoculated over 2 million Israelis by the end of January.

Though the Health Ministry had yet to issue updated figures after Shabbat, Channel 12 News reported that some 266,000 people had gotten the first of two shots by the end of the first week of Israel’s vaccination push.

Israel has vaccinated some 266,000 people against COVID-19 since kicking off a national vaccination drive this week, Channel 12 News reported Saturday.

At a pace of 150,000 vaccines administered a day, Netanyahu said that within a month 2.25 million Israelis could receive both doses of the vaccine. That amounts to nearly a quarter of Israel’s 9.25 million population.

He also said he’d spoken over the weekend with the heads of pharmaceutical firms, asking them to increase the pace at which they’re supplying the vaccine in order to allow the increased rate. Netanyahu, who didn’t specify which pharma executives he spoke with, said the officials told him they believed they could do so.

“This is the critical stage… because this is the entire at-risk population: All the medical teams, all the people over 60. Within this stratum is 95 percent of the mortality. Once we finish this stage, within 30 days we can get out of the coronavirus [pandemic], open the economy and do things that no other state can do,” he claimed, echoing an assertion he made Thursday.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in a statement Saturday night he would seek to vaccinate the country’s teaching professionals this week, to help protect them as schools remain open during a new national lockdown.

In its last update before Shabbat on Friday morning, the Health Ministry said nearly 210,000 medical workers, Israelis over 60 and residents of senior living facilities had received the vaccine.

Israel currently ranks second globally in vaccinations per capita, after Bahrain, according to the University of Oxford-run Our World in Data.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks about Israel’s coronavirus vaccination campaign in a video statement released on December 26, 2020. (Screen capture: Facebook)

The Health Ministry reported Saturday evening that another 3,994 virus cases had been diagnosed Friday and another 1,439 by Saturday afternoon, taking the number of active cases up to 34,996. The death toll rose by 20 to 3,203.

The test positivity rate stood at 4.7 percent Friday, one of the higher rates seen in recent weeks.

The vaccine campaign, which began Sunday, continued on Saturday in some capacity, multiple media reports indicated, despite reported opposition from top rabbis to vaccinating on the Jewish day of rest.

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Maccabi Healthcare Services vaccination center in Modiin, on December 24, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called Thursday to keep the vaccine operation going 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including on Shabbat.

Regarding the push to carry out vaccinations on Shabbat, Edelstein, who is Orthodox, cited the Jewish legal principle of saving a life, or “pikuah nefesh,” which trumps nearly all other religious requirements.

According to a Channel 12 report Saturday, Clalit, Israel’s largest health maintenance organization, will open 24/7 vaccination centers in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Herzliya in the coming days to help ramp up the pace of the vaccine drive. Additional centers are expected to be opened at a later date.

Israeli hospitals are also to join the vaccination effort next week, and hundreds of IDF medics will also participate, to help expedite the process.

People wearing face masks shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on December 25, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

While the vaccination drive is moving quickly ahead, Israel’s virus contagion rates are also rising, and the country is going into a third nationwide lockdown on Sunday afternoon.

Chezy Levy, the Health Ministry director-general, said the lockdown could last for three to four weeks, until infection rates were significantly lowered.

On Friday, a top Health Ministry official said Israel aims to begin vaccinating the general public within 7-10 days.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the acting head of the Health Ministry’s public health services, told Channel 12 news that the ministry intends to move quickly to a 24/7 vaccination schedule, and “we hope in 7-10 days” to start vaccinating the general public.

Asked on Channel 12 whether this meant Israel would essentially have completed its vaccination drive by March 23’s election day, Alroy-Preis carefully avoided a direct answer, but stressed that the ministry was doing everything in its power to expedite the arrival of sufficient vaccine doses and to accelerate the inoculation program. The Pfizer vaccines which Israel is using require two doses, three weeks apart.

Alroy-Preis also said vaccinations in elderly care facilities should be largely completed by the end of next week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted on Thursday that Israel would likely be the first country in the world to overcome the pandemic. “I want to tell you that the combination of the marvelous vaccine campaign on the one hand, and a short and quick lockdown on the other, is allowing us to get out of the coronavirus [pandemic],” Netanyahu said in a statement. “And we’ll likely be the first country to get out of [it], within a few weeks,” he added.

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