Running low on vaccines, Israel may stop giving 1st doses for short period

Supplies will run out in 10 days at current pace, Channel 13 says; plan would see 2nd doses get priority for 2-week period; health minister warns current lockdown ‘a Swiss cheese’

Teachers receive a COVID-19 vaccine, at the Shamir Medical Center in Be'er Ya'akov on December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)
Teachers receive a COVID-19 vaccine, at the Shamir Medical Center in Be'er Ya'akov on December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry might be forced to semi-freeze its vaccination campaign for two weeks in January, as it may run out of injections otherwise.

Unless a deal is agreed upon for Pfizer vaccine supplies due in February to arrive ahead of schedule, current stocks will run out in about 10 days at the current pace of inoculation — some 150,000 shots a day — Channel 13 reported Wednesday.

The pause would allow those who have received the first dose to get the second dose, but new first doses would not be given, according to the report.

This in turn will likely lead to a delay in opening vaccination to the general public, Channel 12 said. Some officials had previously assessed that could happen within a week or so, but it may now need to wait a month and a half or more, the report said.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein confirmed that his ministry may stop administering first doses for “a short period,” telling Channel 12 that “there will be no shortage of the second dose.”

Edelstein added that he was in contact with Pfizer officials in order to advance February’s vaccine orders to January, but said that “even if we were to stop for two weeks” Israel would still be far ahead of any other country in inoculations per capita.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on December 19, 2020. (Amir Cohen/Pool/AFP)

Earlier Wednesday, the Health Ministry announced that 152,000 coronavirus vaccines had been administered Tuesday, even as Israel recorded its highest number of new COVID-19 cases since early October.

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!” 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.

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.

However, Sharon Elroy-Preis, acting head of the ministry’s 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,” she told Kan.

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

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

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.

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