Health Ministry pushing to bring more vaccines to Israel faster

Knesset approves national lockdown * Health officials consider lifting hotel isolation requirement for travelers

A MAN receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem on Monday. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
A MAN receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem on Monday.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
The Health Ministry, together with the prime minister, is working to advance the number of vaccines that will arrive in Israel next month to ensure that the country can continue its mass vaccination campaign, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Monday.
“We have contacted the vaccine companies and we are trying to bring forward the arrival of the additional vaccines,” he said during a briefing from a Sderot vaccination complex. The minister stressed that “there is no shortage – there will be no shortage.”
He added that the country is expected to receive millions of vaccine doses in the coming months.
A top health official told The Jerusalem Post that there are already around 3.2 million doses of Pfizer vaccine in Israel – enough to inoculate 1.6 million Israelis – and that another 600,000 were expected to arrive in the country this week.
In contrast, Channel 12 reported that there were currently only 1.4 million doses in Israel with another 2.4 million doses expected to arrive this week.
Either way, Israel is expected to have around 3.8 million in Israel by the end of the year.
The news station added that another four million doses of the Pfizer vaccine were expected to come in February and one million from Moderna by March. The Health Ministry’s efforts are intended to push Pfizer to deliver more vaccines in January, which would allow Israel to continue vaccinating at its current pace or faster.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he wants to see vaccinations increase to 150,000 people per day – 2.25 million Israelis within six weeks.
The Health Ministry could not confirm the number of vaccines in Israel due to confidentiality agreements with Pfizer. However, what Israelis do know is that the country has ordered eight million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and another six million doses from Moderna.
Israel also has a contract for 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“I saw today the vaccinations of the medical staff and the population over the age of 60,” Edelstein said during the briefing. “We are working at a crazy pace, approaching half a million people vaccinated.”
SOON AFTER on Monday, the Maccabi Health Fund announced that it had vaccinated its 100,000th person: 100-year-old Yosef Cohen.
100-year-old Yosef Cohen becomes the 100,00th person to be vaccinated by the Maccabi Health Fund.  (Credit: Maccabi Health Fund)100-year-old Yosef Cohen becomes the 100,00th person to be vaccinated by the Maccabi Health Fund. (Credit: Maccabi Health Fund)
“I call on each of you to get vaccinated,” Cohen said, “because it is very important. Take care of the older people in your family and get vaccinated.”
Cohen said he will celebrate his 101st birthday next month around the time he is expected to receive the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine. He said the inoculation will be a “special birthday present.”
But Edelstein said that the country must operate on two tracks: vaccination and lockdown, the latter of which was passed by the government last week and approved by the Knesset on Monday in order to help reduce the rate of infection.
“I am confident that we will get out of this closure and be able to say to the virus, ‘We are not afraid of you,’” Edelstein said.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee voted eight to seven on Monday to approve the national lockdown for the next two weeks.
The committee agreed that it would reconvene next week to discuss allowing takeaway from restaurants. MK Yakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) said he had a commitment from the Health Ministry to allow complementary medicine to resume, which would also be discussed. In addition, the committee said they were in favor of ensuring that teachers are vaccinated.
“We have made a decision to support MK Tehila Friedman’s request and to vote again on the issue of allowing takeaway next week, depending on a lowering of the rate of infection,” said Likud MK Miki Zohar during the meeting. “Another request by MK Friedman concerns the vaccination of teaching staff, and we accept her position to give them priority.”
The city of Tel Aviv and Sheba Medical Center both said that they were prepared to start vaccinating educators, with the Health Ministry saying that teacher vaccination would formally begin as early as next Sunday.
THE KNESSET debate was more heated than usual, with some ministers saying they were going to vote against the outline. However, Blue and White MKs Friedman and Eitan Ginzburg ultimately voted in favor of passing the closure, enabling it to pass. Labor MK Merav Michaeli, who chaired the meeting on Monday, was told she could not vote.
The Knesset decision came against the backdrop of another day of high infection: some 3,508 new cases were reported by the Health Ministry Monday evening, with 4.9% of those screened testing positive. The number of red zones also increased, shuttering thousands of fifth through 12 graders at home for distance learning.
According to the latest report by the Health Ministry, some 4.5 million Israelis – more than half (51%) of the population – were residents of red or orange zones as of Monday morning.
There were 602 people in serious condition, including 147 who were intubated. The death toll stood at 3,247.
Edelstein also addressed the decision made Sunday by the Knesset Education Committee to allow all students to return to school, including those in grades five through 10 who were supposed to have shifted to distance learning with the lockdown. He called the decision “irresponsible” and “incomprehensible.”
“I hope the committee members will reconvene and we will be able to wage the fight against the virus,” Edelstein said.
Meanwhile, Education Minister Yoav Gallant and Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto had an escalation on Twitter over the matter.
“In recent days, accusing voices have been heard again from Health Ministry officials against Israeli students,” Gallant tweeted, claiming that the data shows that schools do not spread infection but rather curb it. “Studies as a whole are of great importance in stabilizing the economy and strengthening society and the state.”
In response, Grotto replied, “I would love to see the data you are basing this on.”
FINALLY, Health Ministry officials are expected to announce an end soon to the requirement that all Israelis returning from abroad must quarantine in government-run hotels, due to fears of the highly infectious mutation of the coronavirus and that people isolating at home will not observe the rules.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday that he does not support the current corona hotel policy and that it should be changed.
Gantz claimed his ministry is able to oversee public health by ensuring that returning Israelis are checked for COVID-19 when they arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport and are then sent home for the quarantine period. The corona hotel policy means all people returning to Israel must be sent to a hotel for a 14-day period or for 10 days with two positive tests.
Those arriving from overseas will have a ministry representative able to answer their questions in the part of the country where they live. The ministry already has such an outlay in place called Kanfei Hayil (Wings of Strength).
The director-general of the Health Ministry, Prof. Chezy Levy, said Monday that there was no more room to run quarantine hotels for people returning from abroad. Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash echoed this sentiment, saying this policy would be reexamined.
Deputy Health Minister MK Yoav Kisch said on Monday that since the vaccine is effective when there is fear of infection from the mutation, it would be correct to move back to home isolation and stop the quarantine in hotels.
Since the decision to put all Israelis returning from abroad into quarantine hotels, there have been multiple complaints from those who have been housed in them – of filthy conditions, inedible food and lack of medicine and other basics.
There have even been attempts by those in the hotels to break out, forcing their way past guards. There were several such demonstrations at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Jerusalem, including one on Monday evening, with many complaining of being virtual prisoners there. Others have simply walked out when no officials were looking.
Nearly half of those who are supposed to quarantine in these hotels have been managing to talk their way out of staying in them, according to many reports, citing medical problems or other hardships.
Israeli schools will continue to operate in green and yellow areas according to the government's "traffic light plan," according to a joint press release from the Prime Minister's Office and Health Ministry. 
The report comes as debates continue on schools remaining open during the ongoing third coronavirus lockdown that started on Sunday.
Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.