Coronavirus: Health funds start taking vaccination appointments

Netanyahu, Edelstein to inoculate against coronavirus Saturday night at Sheba Medical Center

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tour Maccabi vaccination complex, Tel Aviv, December 13, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tour Maccabi vaccination complex, Tel Aviv, December 13, 2020
The beginning of what will hopefully be the end of the war against COVID-19 will begin on Saturday night when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein are vaccinated.
The next morning, medical personnel across the country will be able to be inoculated, too.
Hospitals and health funds have begun preparations for the vaccination campaign, with the goal of getting as many people jabbed in as little time as possible. If vaccine deliveries and administration go as planned, the general public could start getting vaccinated as early as the end of this month or the beginning of January.
“The vaccine will be a game-changer,” Dr. Anat Angel, the head of Wolfson Medical Center, told The Jerusalem Post. She added that around 70% of the population would need to get vaccinated to create herd immunity and this could take several months or even a year, so it is important to get started and for medical personnel to get vaccinated and set an example.
According to her, around 30% of staff have already signed up to get jabbed, but she expects many more to take part. She said 75% of staff was inoculated against influenza and the percentage is expected to be similar for coronavirus.
Around 70% of staff has already agreed to be vaccinated at Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon, 68% at Emek Medical Center in Afula and more than 50% at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, The Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson and Rambam Health Care Campus, Channel 12 revealed.
After medical personnel on Sunday, people over the age of 60 will be eligible for vaccination through their local health funds.
On Thursday afternoon, the health funds already began taking appointments for their elderly clients.
Maccabi said that the first vaccines would be given out on Monday, December 21 and appointments were available for next week. Each patient must book two appointments in advance for the two doses of the vaccine. The first dose will be given now and then the second one 21 days later. Only after being inoculated with two doses is a person considered immune.
Two hours after appointments started being taken, the Maccabi phone line collapsed from overcrowding. The fund responded that it “welcomes the huge number of people calling to book an appointment” and that it was this influx of calls that caused the system to crash.
Some 3,000 people made appointments through Maccabi in the first few hours.
Maccabi has said it can vaccinate around 25,000 people per day on weekdays. The vaccines will first be administered in 24 complexes throughout the country and gradually expand to more than 300 stations at 80 complexes. Appointments can be made via phone as of Thursday and soon through the health fund’s website and application.
“Today, when the State of Israel has exceeded 3,000 deaths as a result of coronavirus and has a significant increase in morbidity, it is absolutely clear that the vaccine is critical to protect our health and those around us,” said Maccabi CEO Ran Saar. He said that he would be the first at his fund to be vaccinated.
The Leumit health fund also announced the launch of its campaign, which it said would begin with employees through December 23.
Clalit’s nurses will coordinate appointments for those ensured through its health fund and notify them via text message.
Meuhedet also said it would start taking appointments and on Thursday night it sent a message to members explaining that “in the next few days, Meuhedet will start its vaccination campaign. The vaccines are safe to take and the Health Ministry recommends you get vaccinated. According to the guidelines of the Health Ministry, target populations will be vaccinated first. We will inform our eligible clients and we will contact them to schedule an appointment for vaccination.”
Aside from Maccabi’s 300 vaccination stations, Clalit is expected to establish around 400 stations and to vaccinate around 40,000 people a day.
Leumit said it would set up 60 vaccination clinics and another four mobile stations. Meuhedet is expected to have 70 clinics offering vaccinations and four mobile stations.
The funds said that citizens have already begun calling them asking to be vaccinated.
As mentioned, hospitals are also preparing to jab their staff.
An invitation to the media was sent by Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, for example, to witness the beginning of the vaccination campaign at their hospital, including the inoculation of former coronavirus commissioner Prof. Ronni Gamzu.
Others who will be vaccinated include Prof. Idit Matot, the hospital’s well-known head of the Anesthesia, Pain and Intensive Care division, among other experts.
As noted, Netanyahu and Edelstein will be vaccinated Saturday night at Sheba, making the prime minister one of the first leaders in the world to be vaccinated against the virus.
The prime minister and the health minister, who will launch the vaccination campaign in Israel, will be vaccinated in front of the cameras live, in order to serve as an example and encourage the general public to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The prime minister will be accompanied by his doctor, Dr. Zvi Herman Berkowitz.
In recent days, many others have sought to enlist in the information effort and to set a personal example by being vaccinated. But in a letter from Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy to hospital heads, he said that while “this is an important response from people who have the power to persuade the citizens of the country and we are grateful to them” they will not be able to be prioritized over the elderly and high-risk people.
“In the very near future we will receive more shipments of vaccines and open the vaccine to more groups,” Levy wrote. “Media personalities, celebrities and others – we will be happy to use them to increase public response to get vaccinated.”
He added that the Health Ministry’s management would also get vaccinated with the rest of the country’s medical personnel in order to set an example.  
Edelstein lashed out at those he felt were not setting a strong example on Thursday afternoon, accusing Yisrael Beytenu head MK Avigdor Liberman and his party of spreading fake news and encouraging people not to get vaccinated.
“In recent days, there have been cases of the spreading of fake news and calls not to get vaccinated by Yisrael Beytenu MKs,” Edelstein wrote on Twitter and Facebook. “I would like to understand from the chairman of the party, Avigdor Liberman, if this is the official position of the party. And, if not, then I ask you to join the efforts to encourage citizens to vaccinate so we can beat this pandemic.”
Edelstein’s social posts followed an impassioned speech in the Knesset on Wednesday, where he told MKs that if they spread fake news or tell people not to vaccinate, they could cause people to die.
“With all due respect to the spreaders of lies, we are constantly approached by the heads of authorities, celebrities and doctors, who want to set a personal example,” the health minister said at the Knesset. “My main mission is to fight fake news in the coming weeks and months.
“If you do not want to get vaccinated, don’t get vaccinated,” he continued. “But do not discuss things you don’t understand or spread lies. This could cause someone who hears this nonsense to not get vaccinated, become sick and possibly even die.”
The Pfizer vaccines, several hundred thousand of which have already arrived in Israel, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and the data has been reviewed carefully by teams of health professionals inside and outside the Health Ministry.
Edelstein said his ministry would provide information about the vaccines to the public and would closely monitor the results and any side effects of those who receive inoculations.
“The people of Israel will not be given any vaccine that we do not trust 100%,” he said, noting that he had signed the approval for the coronavirus vaccine to be covered under the Vaccine Victims’ Law, which would ensure compensation to anyone harmed by it.
Liberman later responded to Edelstein by saying that the vaccines are not a political issue, but an individual decision.
“Regarding vaccines – there’s no such thing as partisan discipline or agreements between parties,” Liberman tweeted. “Every person, according to their age, medical condition and doctors’ recommendations, will make their own decisions.”
Liberman noted that while he intends on getting vaccinated for the virus, he will not tell others how they should act and will not judge anyone for their choices.
Another member of Liberman’s party, MK Yulia Malinovsky, addressed a letter to MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, chairwoman of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee, demanding to make the information relating to the coronavirus vaccines transparent and available to the public.
“Who will be held responsible for damages caused by the vaccine? What populations are more prone to be damaged by the vaccine? Will there be any sanctions or benefits to those who choose to vaccinate?” Malinovsky asked in her letter, which was sent Thursday evening. “The importance of holding a public debate is extremely high, in order to ensure that the information is transparent so that every citizen in Israel can form an opinion after hearing all medical recommendations.”
Recall, Israel has signed agreements for 24 million vaccine doses against coronavirus, enough for 12 million people.
To date, it has received around 600,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and more are expected to arrive before the end of the month. Israel also has a contract with Moderna for six million vaccine doses; that vaccine also requires two jabs.
There is also a contract with AstraZeneca for 10 million doses.