Has Israel become the COVID-19 ‘unvaccinated nation’?

Israel ran the world’s fastest coronavirus vaccination campaign last December, but now it seems the country is falling short of the hype.

 Medical staff receive their third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kefar Sava, August 13, 2021. (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Medical staff receive their third COVID-19 vaccine shot at Meir Medical Center in Kefar Sava, August 13, 2021.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

Israel ran the world’s fastest coronavirus vaccination campaign last December, becoming a model for the nations. But 12 months later, it seems the country is falling short of the hype.

Now, as Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stressed on Sunday, “at the moment, we are not sufficiently protected.”

Based on numbers shared by Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash and the Health Ministry, only between 60% and 65% of eight million eligible Israelis are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had three shots of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine or it has been less than six months since they received their second shot.

Another 12% were double-vaccinated more than six months ago, 9% are completely unvaccinated and 10% to 12% have recovered or recovered and received one dose. And, finally, another 1.5% are children who only became eligible for a second shot on Monday, three weeks after Israel’s kids vaccination campaign kicked off.

In other words, 40% to 45% of the population are not fully protected against the Omicron variant – around a third of eligible Israelis and another million children under the age of five who are not eligible for vaccines.

 A MEDICAL TECHNICIAN administers the third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tel Aviv earlier this year.  (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS) A MEDICAL TECHNICIAN administers the third shot of the COVID-19 vaccine in Tel Aviv earlier this year. (credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)

Research is starting to show that two shots of the Pfizer vaccine provide only minimal protection against the mutation, while three shots – although less effective than against the Delta variant – are still around 75% effective against symptomatic infection.

Government and health officials have nearly begun to beg the public to turn out at the country’s vaccination complexes for a jab.

“The third vaccine provides quite good protection,” Bennett stressed, “including against the Omicron.… I turn to you: Go today, even without an appointment, to any health fund.”

The situation is especially acute when examining the country’s children’s vaccination campaign.

While in the United States an estimated 17% of children have received at least one COVID-19 dose, in Israel only some 115,000 kids between the ages of five and 11 have shown up to get the jab, amounting to around 10% of the 1.2 million children in this cohort and 12% of the 975,000 children who have not recovered from the virus.

Of course, any child who recovered more than three months ago can and is encouraged to get a shot. Yet, as Bennett said, “most of the children are not vaccinated – not even with the first vaccine.”

Moreover, there are huge gaps among the sectors, according to Health Ministry data, with many fewer ultra-Orthodox and Arab children getting inoculated.

Whereas around 14% of children in the general sector have gotten at least one shot, that number is less than 2% in the ultra-Orthodox sector and just over 1% in the Arab sector.

Data shared by Meuhedet, which has vaccinated 13% of its eligible child subscribers, showed similar vaccination gaps. Of the 13,021 kids it jabbed, 12.5% were ultra-Orthodox, 13.5% Religious Zionist, 5% Arab, 2.5% Ethiopian or Russian and 66.5% were among the general public.

“In the Arab sector, the response is particularly low,” said Dr. Efrat Wexler, director of pediatrics at Meuhedet. “Of course, we do our best to make the vaccines accessible to less populated populations, including advocacy efforts and making the vaccines physically accessible. But the question every parent should ask themselves is not ‘why vaccinate my child?’ but actually ‘why not?’”

She added that as the age of children decreases, so does their parents’ willingness to vaccinate.

According to the health fund’s records, while 21% of children it vaccinated were 11 and 17.5% were 10, only 9.5% were five and 11% age six. Between 12.5% and 15% of the kids who have so far been vaccinated by Meuhedet were seven, eight or nine.

At the same time, only 58% of eligible 12- to 15-year-olds have been vaccinated, according to Health Ministry data, meaning there are still 42% of these teenagers who are not protected.

“In most cases, the disease will indeed be mild for younger children, but in Israel, 398 children were hospitalized in moderate to critical condition and 11 children died,” Wexler noted. “These are 11 children too many because no child should die of COVID-19.”

She added that one in 900 children will suffer from long COVID.

“The pandemic is not behind us and it is of utmost importance that the children and the teenagers will be vaccinated,” stressed MDA CEO Eli Bin. “This is the way to act against the [Omicron] outbreak.”