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Israel media review

Up shot creek without a lockdown: What the press is saying on January 4

Israel is running low on vaccines, as some wonder why whippersnappers snapped up doses; meanwhile, the cabinet mulls a closure that actually closes things while hospitals cry uncle

A man waits at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv on December 31, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
A man waits at a vaccination center in Tel Aviv on December 31, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

1. Waiting for the other shot to drop: Israel’s vaccination drive, the single bright spot in its battle against the coronavirus, appears set for a slowdown, according to Hebrew media reports.

  • While no slowdown is expected in the distribution of the second dose, health care providers have stopped or slowed making new appointments for people to receive their first doses.
  • The Kan broadcaster reports that there are only 170,000 appointments left to be filled by Israelis over 60 or at risk, meaning 170,000 first doses left to be handed out, a bit more than Israel has been averaging per day.
  • Channel 12 reports that over 60s who belong to the Meuhedet HMO are out of luck and will need to wait until February to get an appointment for a vaccine.
  • While the next shipment of Pfizer doses is expected in February, the channel claims that the company is under pressure internationally to postpone it and give doses to other countries, due to the perception that Israel is skipping the line.
  • Ehud Davidson, the head of the Clalit health fund, tells Yedioth Ahronoth that the Health Ministry is refusing to tell how many doses it actually has in storage. “People are asking me when they will get their turn and I don’t have an answer for them.”

2. Uno dose: Due to the shortage, some in Israel are beginning to suggest postponing the second dose and giving more people a shot at the first.

  • Health Ministry head Chezy Levy tells Kan that the idea is not currently on the table. ‘If the world starts immunizing with one shot only, we’ll think about it — but we’re not there yet.”
  • The idea, being pushed by the UK, is “a fundamental mistake, we cannot adopt these policies in Israel,” Arnon Afek, a former Health Ministry director, tells Army Radio. “The Brits are venturing into a new world that has not been looked at, and are testing it on a population that is especially sensitive.”
  • But infectious diseases expert Eyal Leshem tells Haaretz that postponing the second shot might actually improve the vaccine’s efficacy, and Israel can give those in the highest risk categories a second dose, while giving others only one.
  • “Israel and other countries give [other] vaccines at a delayed date or in a smaller number than recommended if there is no significant efficacy reduction and there are financial savings or an improvement in the level of coverage,” he’s quoted saying.

3. Shots for tots: The shortage means that the inevitable backlash to Israel’s policy of giving leftover (or sometimes not leftover) vaccines to all comers is being scrutinized, after two weeks of it being considered the greatest thing since sliced bread.

  • Channel 12 writes that the rush to use up the leftover doses, which only last a short time once unthawed, has created a “mess” at every vaccination center at the end of the day.
  • It says it asked all four HMOs about it, and each of them claimed that it only gives leftover doses to those who are at the top of the list as per Health Ministry instructions.
  • That’s plainly BS, as there are countless stories, in the press and social media, of shots being given to whoever shows up, whether at the end of the day or not.
  • Kan publishes a video from Sunday evening showing a large line of what it says are mostly young people waiting to get into a vaccination center in Tel Aviv. In the video, an older gentleman scolds the whippersnappers for trying to bogart the shots that others need more, and a security man at the scene says he’ll only let in those 55 and up.
  • Ynet reports that Meuhedet, the same HMO that doesn’t have enough for all its over-60s, leads the nation in giving out shots to youngbloods, with 40% going to those under 60 years old.
  • Guy Meninger, the head of a group of so-called “vaccine hunters” who publish material online about where young, healthy people can get vaccinated, tells Channel 12 that they are keeping shots from being thrown away: “We’re rescuing the doses, not taking anyone’s turn.”
  • Ayman Seiff, the coronavirus response coordinator dealing with the Arab community, tells Channel 12 that he’s happy that Jews are flocking to Arab towns to grab shots, “but on the other hand, this is coming at the expense of the Arab population.”

4. Ward of warning: Meanwhile, the number of new coronavirus cases is continuing to rise.

  • Health expert Yinon Ashkenazi tells Army Radio that “if the situation does not change, we’ll get to 9,000 cases a day by Thursday-Friday.”
  • Israel Hayom runs a front-page headline about the “severe warnings from hospitals.”
  • “We have more than 90 coronavirus patients from the last week alone, half of them in serious or critical condition,” a source from Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital is quoted telling the paper.
  • The Walla news site reports that hospital heads held a Zoom conference with Health Ministry head Levy during which they said that they are dealing with crowding at impossible levels and the situation was only getting worse, begging him to push the coronavirus cabinet to tighten the lockdown.
  • Levy’s response, according to the report, was to “lower the flames,” and say that the situation was worrying, but that they were not at the point of collapse.
  • “His response caused widespread anger among the participants, who reminded him that he used to head a hospital and should understand the significance of the severe morbidity and what it demands of a staff fatigued after 10 months of fighting the pandemic.”

5. Thinking tight and loose: Despite Levy’s reported nonchalance, reports are rampant that the cabinet is indeed considering tightening the current lockdown, which Yedioth calls a “fake lockdown” on its front page.

  • The same front page also claims, in big letters, that Israel is on its way to a full lockdown.
  • “The holey lockdown has been marked by crowded lines outside restaurants for takeout, at bus stops, and even stores that have stayed open despite regulations,” the paper reports.
  • Most reports say the main issue keeping Israel’s government from actually locking down is a dispute between Likud and Blue and White, especially over schools.
  • “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lined up with the health system and wants a full lockdown — with politically convenient timing. Alternate prime minister Benny Gantz, however, thinks steps should be taken that do less harm to the economy, and that Israel does not need to tighten the lockdown,” reports Channel 13.
  • Channel 12 reports that Likud Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch mentioned on the radio that Gantz had been convinced to tighten the lockdown and shut schools. “Sources close to Gantz” tell the channel, though, that their position has not changed.
  • Speaking to Ynet, Gantz both includes closing schools in his list of things Israel can do that he would find acceptable, but then also says schools should not be affected by the lockdown.
  • Blue and White Science Minister Izhar Shay tells Army Radio that the school issue is one of fairness, since the ultra-Orthodox have refused to close theirs. “It’s unthinkable that schools will only be shut in secular and Arab areas. The prime minister and health minister should commit to closing the entire school system.”
  • Speaking to Kan, Shay says Blue and White wants to base a decision on numbers proving that schools are a source of infection, but introduces some numbers of his own: “In two or three weeks we’ll have two million people immunized or having had the disease and at that point the danger to the at-risk population will be lower. … That needs to be part of our considerations. The numbers showing the advance of morbidity and the vaccinations do not justify taking more steps.”
  • In Haaretz, health expert Ron Balicer challenges that idea: “The overall impact of the direct effect of vaccinating the elderly is limited. According to Clalit Health Services data, about 80 percent of severe illness occurs in those aged 60 and older. A simple calculation would show that vaccinating 70 percent of the elderly expected by the end of this week – 85 to 90 percent of whom will develop immunity within a few weeks – will lead to a 50% reduction in the severe illness rates among those infected. That is undoubtedly a dramatic improvement, but in itself does not change the rules of the game – because a doubling of the daily number of new cases, which currently happens every two weeks, will completely negate this beneficial effect.”
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