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Two HMOs say they’ll vaccinate those 35 and up, without Health Ministry okay

Clalit and Meuhedet broaden pool of those able to get coronavirus shots; officials said to consider scrapping prioritization entirely

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection, at a Clalit Health Services vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 18, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine injection, at a Clalit Health Services vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 18, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Two of Israel’s four health maintenance organizations said Wednesday they will begin vaccinating anyone over age 35 and up, despite the current Health Ministry prioritization program only allowing inoculations for people aged 40 or older.

Clalit Health Services and Meuhedet both said they would lower the bar to enable more people to get the shots.

Israel’s two other HMOs, Maccabi Healthcare Services and Leumit Healthcare Services, were reported to be sticking to Health Ministry guidelines.

Israel’s mass vaccination program kicked off by giving the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech shots to medical workers, those over age 60 and up, and at-risk groups. As the drive has raced ahead the age limit has steadily dropped, going down to 40 on Tuesday. 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.

Clalit said in a statement it was taking the action in order to “not waste that ability of over 100,000 shots a day,” Channel 13 news reported.

Galia Rahav in Tel Aviv on June 22, 2020.(Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Galia Rahav, a member of the Health Ministry panel that has been advising on prioritization, told the station there are enough supplies of vaccines and that there is no longer any reason to ration them.

“There is no need for a priorities framework,” she said. “There are enough vaccines.”

Rahav said the prioritization system had broken down anyway. and in practice members of all age groups were getting shots.

“In the beginning it was important because we didn’t know how many vaccines would arrive. Now there are vaccines there is no need for prioritization,” she said.

Senior sources in the Health Ministry told the Ynet website that there will be a ministry meeting Wednesday evening to review the vaccination program and it is likely to be decided to open up inoculations for all those over the age of 16.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Wednesday that some 210,000 vaccination shots were given the previous day, a new record for the country. Of those, 129,000 were people already getting their second and final dose, and another 72,000 were getting their first injection.

So far 2,272,000 people — nearly a quarter of the population — have had at least the first shot and 550,000 have completed their inoculation. Israel’s fast-paced immunization program has given the country the most vaccinations per capita in the world, according to monitoring groups.

Health Ministry figures show that 69.4% of those aged 60-69 have had the first shot, and just 23.4% have had both. Among 50- to 59-year-olds the figures are 51.6% and 6.2%, and among 40- to 49-year-olds 30.5% and 4% for first and second shots respectively

In a move to further ramp up the vaccination rate, the Health Ministry on Tuesday instructed the country’s health maintenance organizations that vaccine shots set aside as second doses can now be used as first shots, with the HMOs relying on new supplies arriving in time to keep the second rounds of injections on schedule. The move came after a recent deal was struck with Pfizer-BioNTech to quickly provide many more vaccination units to Israel.

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

Since the start of the virus outbreak early last year 570,503 people in Israel have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and there are 83,342 active patients according to Health Ministry figures released Wednesday. The death toll stood at 4,144.

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