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Two-thirds of eligible Israelis have received at least 1 dose of COVID vaccine

Israel hits milestone of over 4 million first shots administered; some 1,996,000 others eligible to get immunized but have not done so

An Israeli woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on February 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An Israeli woman receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on February 16, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Four million Israelis, or some 44 percent of the country’s total population, have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Tuesday.

With the latest milestone, some two-thirds of those eligible to be immunized have received the first Pfizer-BioNTech shot. Some 1,996,000 eligible Israelis have yet to receive either dose.

About 2.6 million Israelis have received both doses — or some 43% of the eligible population.

Around 3 million Israelis are not eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and people who have recovered from COVID-19, among other reasons.

The latest vaccine data was not yet available from the Health Ministry, which reported over 3.99 million people have been vaccinated as of Monday night. Official ministry figures on vaccination rates are sometimes only updated at the end of the day.

To mark the occasion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein met with a man in Jerusalem symbolically designated as Israel’s 4th million vaccinee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (R) pose with a man symbolically designated as Israel’s 4th million person to be vaccinated, February 16, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu urged the 570,000 people age 50 and up he said have yet to be vaccinated to get the shot, noting the higher rates of serious illness and mortality among this population.

“When you do not go to be vaccinated because of this small jab, which is insignificant — in the worst case the side effects are a few hours’ discomfort — you take upon yourselves the risks of death and severe illness with effects that could be for life,” he said.

Netanyahu added: “Not only are you saving yourselves; if you do not go to be vaccinated then many of you will become very sick and you will be a challenge for our hospitals and then we will be compelled to impose a new lockdown.”

He also repeated his assertion that Israel “can completely exit” from the coronavirus pandemic if the rest of those 50 and over are vaccinated.

Foreign workers and asylum seekers stand in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv on February 9, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign slowed in recent weeks, with the issue of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism becoming a concern. However, rates have ticked up again this week as ministers approved measures to reopen certain venues and events only to those who have been vaccinated or previously contracted the virus.

The reluctance has been most pronounced among Israelis below the age of 50, including among teaching staff. The government is seeking to pass a bill that will require all workers who have a high amount of exposure to the public to either be vaccinated or have a virus test every two days.

The Health Ministry is also pushing to amend public health ordinances to allow it to hand over personal data on who has or hasn’t been vaccinated to local authorities and the Education Ministry, in a bid to boost the vaccine campaign, Hebrew media reports said.

The ministry circulated a draft of the proposal on Tuesday, despite legal officials saying such information can only be handed over in the case of a confirmed coronavirus carrier, the Walla news site reported.

“Vaccinating the majority of the population is the chosen strategy for getting out of the pandemic,” an explanation of the proposal says, according to the Kan public broadcaster. “Herd immunity of the population in Israel is still not in reach at this point… In the view of Health Ministry officials, a coverage rate of over 90 percent will be needed in risk groups to avoid a serious wave of morbidity after the release of restrictions.”

Alongside the proposed legal measures, there have been a number of other initiatives to encourage people to get vaccinated, including free food, inoculations performed on forest trails and businesses offering incentives for employees to go and get the shot.

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