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Vaccine supply to Israel set to resume, fueling frantic inoculation drive

Hundreds of thousands of shots to arrive Sunday; medical staff, elderly Israelis begin receiving 2nd dose; virus death toll climbs, with over 300 fatalities since Jan. 1

A man receives a shot at a Meuhedet COVID-19 vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A man receives a shot at a Meuhedet COVID-19 vaccination center in Jerusalem, on January 7, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is set to begin administering second doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to the public Sunday, precisely three weeks after it began its national inoculation drive, as the third wave of the pandemic continued to take a heavy toll on the country with over 300 virus deaths since January 1.

A new deal with Pfizer will see hundreds of thousands of new doses land in Israel Sunday, with planned weekly shipments of similar size expected to deliver another million doses to the country by the end of the month, and 10 million doses expected by March. Israel on Thursday also received over 100,000 vaccines from Moderna, with another delivery expected early this week.

Israel has already given first doses to some 1.7 million people out of a population of 9.29 million, by far the highest vaccination rate in the world. The Health Ministry has prioritized at-risk groups and people over 60, with more than 70 percent of Israelis in that age group having now received the first shot.

According to the Oxford University-run Our World in Data, Israel had vaccinated 19.55 percent of its population as of January 7, leaps and bounds ahead of other countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives his second shot of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on January 9, 2021. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the first Israeli to get the second dose of the vaccine Saturday, just as he inaugurated the first dose, and declared that all Israelis could be fully immunized within two months. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein received the second shot after him.

The next shipment to Israel had originally been set to arrive only in February, and authorities had in recent days wound down first-dose vaccinations due to an expected shortage, to allow all those awaiting second shots to get them on time, 21 days after the first.

But Netanyahu announced Thursday that Pfizer had agreed to send millions of additional doses to Israel, which will serve as a “model country” for the pharmaceutical giant, offering statistical data on the vaccine’s effectiveness. He said the huge influx of vaccine doses would allow Israel to be the first country in the world to get out of the coronavirus crisis.

Health officials now expect to restart first-dose shots on Wednesday, Channel 12 reported. They hope to start vaccinating teaching staff within days, and to move on to all Israelis over 50 very soon. The report said officials believe that if vaccine shipments arrive as planned, vaccination will be opened for the entire population within two or three weeks.

Channel 12 reported that the new shipments had led Israel to be contacted in recent days by at least four countries, among them Cyprus and Denmark, which asked for some of Israel’s stock. They were told that Jerusalem would consider the matter, but that it would not provide vaccines to others before its own population was fully taken care of.

Teva worker at the Teva Pharmaceuticals’ logistics center in Shoham, where coronavirus vaccines stored and distributed around the country, on January 7, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

At the same time, Israel is facing a fresh wave of infections that health officials have said is shaping up to be its worst yet. The country on Friday entered a strict lockdown, closing all schools and nonessential businesses and instructing the public not to venture out of home unless for essential needs.

According to the Health Ministry, 8,024 new coronavirus cases were recorded Friday, which brought the total number of infections confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began to 485,434.

The number of Israelis hospitalized in serious condition for COVID-19 rose to 975 on Saturday night, a record since the start of the pandemic.

The death toll stood at 3,645, with 307 new fatalities recorded since January 1, and 80 since Friday morning.

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