Netanyahu: A small shot for a person, a huge step toward the health of us all

"We have brought millions of vaccines to our little State of Israel and everyone needs to be vaccinated."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets vaccinated for the novel coronavirus. (photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gets vaccinated for the novel coronavirus.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN-GERSHOM/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein received the first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in Israel at an event that was live-streamed across Israel as part of the campaign to encourage the public to get the jab.
“It’s a small shot for a person and a huge step toward the health of us all,” the prime minister said.
The leaders were inoculated at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer by the prime minister’s doctor, Dr. Zvi Herman Berkowitz. Netanyahu was jabbed in the right arm. Edelstein was shot in the left arm.
“This is a very big day for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said before receiving the vaccine. “We have been experiencing for almost a year the worst pandemic that humanity has known in the last 100 years and this is the beginning of the exit. We have brought millions of vaccines to our little State of Israel and everyone needs to be vaccinated. I asked to be vaccinated first with Minister Edelstein to set a personal example.
“I think if we do this together, we will beat the corona and sooner than people expect,” he later added.
Edelstein spoke emotionally about how when he looked at the date — December 19 — he discovered it was the same day in 1984 that his trial took place in the USSR because of his desire to immigrate to Israel.
“Today, December 19, 2020, I have the great privilege to be health minister in the Israeli government,” he said. “Friends, there are reasons for optimism.”
Shortly after the two were vaccinated, they said that they felt “great.”
“I am very happy” and “I think it is a real celebration, a historic evening,” Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
He recalled how in February, a dozen Israelis who had been held up on the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship arrived in Israel and were transported to Sheba – the first hospital to treat coronavirus patients.
“We didn’t know what this was then,” Levy said. “This is symbolic for me that we are starting today what could be the end [of the virus] at this hospital.”
He responded to those who are skeptical about being vaccinated by reminding them that the vaccines have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and that “it is not simple to be approved by the FDA.”
He told the Post that the side effects of the vaccine are comparable to those of the influenza vaccine and called on the public to be inoculated.
“In a physician’s life, in a director-general’s life, there are several moments that are exciting. But this is one of the most significant for me,” Yitshak Kreiss director-general of Sheba Medical Center, told the Post. “We accepted here 10 months ago the first patients when we did not know what to anticipate. We had fears and it took us a lot of time to learn this disease, to understand this is a serious disease.
“We lost many patients here and we waited for the moment that would symbolize the shift in the dynamics from fighting the disease to preventing or curing the disease,” he continued. “And this was the symbolic movement.”
Director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, who was among the first group to be vaccinated after the prime minister, expressed similar sentiments and said that “this is one of the most exciting times in my life.”She said that 10 months ago, she never could have believed that she would be getting inoculated.
“I understand why it is important to me to be one of the first people, or I would otherwise give my place to the elderly or someone more at risk,” Regev-Yochay added. “I feel like I am a representative, and I am saying it is OK to go ahead. Don’t be afraid. This is the first step toward the end of all of this.”
On Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin will be vaccinated at Hadassah-University Medical Center, and coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash at a Maccabi health clinic in Herzliya, along with thousands of medical professionals across Israel.
“I call on everyone to come and get vaccinated – and make sure first of all that your relatives who are at risk, especially older adults, do so as soon as possible,” Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said on Friday.
He, too, will be vaccinated on Sunday.
A poll by the Israel Medical Association published over the weekend found that 82% of doctors intend to get vaccinated against the virus.
The country’s four health funds have published their vaccination schedules in the last few days, opening up hotlines and making appointments to begin Monday for Israel’s over-60 population as well as those with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for developing a serious case of the disease.
“If indeed the Israelis are vaccinated at a rate of about 50,000 people per day from the beginning of January or a little earlier, then the vaccines will begin to affect the morbidity already in February,” wrote Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in an opinion piece published by N12.
According to his models, it will only take about another six or seven weeks at the current rate of infection to reach 1,000 seriously ill patients in Israel’s hospitals. But he said that around the same time, the vaccines should begin to take effect.
“Once we start vaccinating at a high rate, it can be estimated that in a month and a half to two months later, we will see a very significant decrease in both mortality and severe morbidity,” Segal wrote.
Although many Israelis have expressed hesitation about taking the vaccine due to its rapid development and approval process, Maccabi’s appointment line crashed Thursday night within two hours of opening because so many people wanted appointments and more than 40,000 people had reportedly already made appointments to be vaccinated in the coming days.
A Haifa University survey published last week found widespread reluctance among the Israeli public to take the new coronavirus vaccine – only 20.3% of Israeli Jewish respondents and 16% of Israeli Arab respondents said that they would take the vaccine immediately.
A similar number was reported by the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot over the weekend, which showed that 24% plan to get vaccinated immediately and 39% will “probably get vaccinated but will wait a little bit.”
Kreiss said he believes that compliance to be vaccinated is going to be “tremendously higher than we think.” He said that at Sheba almost twice as many professionals as expected signed up to be inoculated.
There are already about 600,000 Pfizer vaccine doses in the country. Millions more are expected by the end of the year. Levy told the Post that deliveries arrive in the country on the average of twice a week and are expected to do so for many months so that all Israelis who want can be vaccinated.
Israel also has contracts with Moderna and AstraZeneca for their respective vaccine candidates. Overnight Friday Israel time, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of Moderna’s novel coronavirus vaccine, mRNA-1273, for individuals over the age of 18. The Pfizer vaccine is available for people 16 and older.
According to Levy, the first doses of the Moderna vaccine should arrive in Israel within the next three months.
The Health Ministry said priority vaccination would go to medical teams and the elderly first. Then, populations at greater risk of infection, such as teachers, would have access to the vaccine. IDF and security officials would also be prioritized.
Approximately 20 million doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to be delivered to the US government by the end of December under Operation Warp Speed. The company said it expects to have between 100 million and 125 million doses available globally in the first quarter of 2021, including the six million doses that have been committed to the State of Israel.