Hundreds of workers at the Prime Minister’s Office received coronavirus vaccinates last week, The Times of Israel has learned. Large numbers of staffers were told by their department heads to show up on December 30 and get vaccinated, regardless of their position, age, and medical condition.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein were the first in Israel to be vaccinated against the coronavirus, earning plaudits as they smiled and bared their arms in a primetime event broadcast on live television, stressing the imperative to vaccinate and the safety of the shots.
Their injections were the first in an unprecedented vaccination campaign that has rocketed Israel to first in the world in the number of people vaccinated per capita, by a considerable margin.
Doubts, however, have begun to rise in recent days over the speed at which Israel will be able to vaccinate the majority of the population, with those over 60 or in other at-risk groups receiving first priority. The first shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine have been nearly used up and delays in the purchase and arrival of additional deliveries have cast a shadow over the next stage of the vaccination campaign, though this may be mitigated by the reported expected arrival of an unspecified number of doses of the Moderna vaccine later this month.
Amid these concerns, The Times of Israel learned that a major vaccine drive was underway at the Prime Minister’s Office.
Not only were those who work in close proximity to Netanyahu vaccinated, but most employees were, including those under 60, those without preexisting health conditions, and employees working from home or in departments not deemed critical.
In some departments, an order was issued for employees to be vaccinated on December 30. In others, departments were asked to pick around 50 percent of their workers to send to a vaccination clinic, including those aged under 60.
Around 1,000 people worked at the PMO as of last year.
“The Health Ministry has approved vaccination for key officials, in order to maintain the ministry’s functional continuity,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in response. “Furthermore, vital workers are only called [to be immunized] with a referral from a vaccinating body, as a result of a surplus of vaccines that will expire and be tossed out if not immediately used.”
The Times of Israel also contacted the health and education ministries to inquire if their employees have been similarly vaccinated.
The Education Ministry said its workers didn’t get vaccines unless they were above 60 or registered to be vaccinated outside the workplace.
The Health Ministry said employees who interact with the public as part of their work, such as inspectors and medical receptionists, have been vaccinated along with the ministry’s top brass and workers over 60.
On Monday, Edelstein ordered vaccine supplies halted to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, after the medical center vaccinated thousands of teachers in the city, including those under 60 and without preexisting health conditions.
Ichilov director Ronni Gamzu, who served as national coronavirus czar until November, pushed back against Edelstein’s decision, noting teachers were a second-tier priority group and asserting that by opening the vaccine drive to those below 60 and not in at-risk groups, the hospital “prevented the waste of a national resource.”
As of Tuesday morning, Edelstein said some 1,370,000 Israelis had received the first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, including nearly 146,000 on Monday.