Health Ministry: Israel to receive Pfizer corona vaccines in weeks

New CBS data: 9% more Israelis died between March and October 2020 vs. 2019

A refrigerated truck leaves the Pfizer plant in Puurs, Belgium December 3, 2020.  (photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)
A refrigerated truck leaves the Pfizer plant in Puurs, Belgium December 3, 2020.
(photo credit: YVES HERMAN/REUTERS)
Israel could begin receiving doses of the Pfizer vaccine within the next few weeks, Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy said Thursday during a video meeting with the country’s hospital administrators.
Some four million doses are expected to arrive, he said – enough to vaccinate two million people. However, even though the vaccines could enter Israel even before they are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, no one will be inoculated before approval.
The announcement comes against the backdrop of another day of spiking infection.
Health Ministry officials are eager for the coronavirus cabinet to convene and begin discussing ways to reduce infection; the cabinet had not convened for 10 days as of Thursday. However, due to tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu opted to hold a smaller, closed-door meeting on the subject Thursday evening.
The prime minister met with Levy, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash and other senior officials, saying that the coronavirus cabinet will only convene next week.
“We have always had the right to wage political struggles,” Edelstein said Thursday at the cornerstone laying ceremony of a new emergency medicine unit at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. “Perhaps these struggles can be postponed… I ask, on my behalf, of the healthcare system: Isn’t it possible to stop the deterioration and focus on the key issues? We will go through a difficult period before the population is vaccinated.”
MEANWHILE, the prime minister spent his time at the same event praising Israel’s efforts against the virus, despite what health experts are warning is the start of a third wave.
“We identified the danger in time – and the determined steps we took at the beginning of the first wave, of closing the borders, helped us curb morbidity,” Netanyahu said at the cornerstone laying.
“We saved a lot of lives and, of course, we wanted to balance health and the economy,” he said. “But when we opened the economy, [the number of those contracting] the disease started to climb and at the height of the second wave we decided to tighten the restrictions again – and saved a lot of lives.”
Netanyahu said that, “compared to other countries, mortality in Israel is low. In Sweden, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands, countries our size in terms of population, the mortality rate per capita is between two and five times what it is here in Israel.”
But his message came at around the same time that the Central Bureau of Statistics released updated mortality data, which showed that during the first and second waves (between March and October 2020) 2,586 more Israelis died than in the year before. In other words, 9% more died in Israel during these months year on year.
The statistics become even more acute as the months of the crisis progress. In October 2020, some 2,537 Israelis died from the novel coronavirus - one in five Israelis, according to the data. 
The highest mortality rate increase was among the elderly aged 70-79 at 17.3%. During the crisis – in line with international data – slightly more men died than women: 51% versus 49%.
The number of new cases is going up, too. The Health Ministry reported 1,572 people were diagnosed with the virus on Wednesday and another 919 between midnight and press time on Thursday.
Some 292 patients are in serious condition. The death toll hit 2,890.
The reproduction rate (R – how many people each infected person will infect) stood at 1.2 on Thursday, up from 1.8 the day before. According to Levy, the greatest increase in infection is in the general community – other than the haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and Arabs – where the R stands at 1.24. A report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said Thursday that there has been an increase in the number of infected people over the age of 60 in recent days.
“We cannot become complacent,” the director-general stressed during an evening briefing.
He said that the Health Ministry was weighing several ideas for new restrictions, including forcing people to isolate in coronavirus hotels upon their return from Turkey. Until now, the ministry said, two-thirds of those returning from red states who are supposed to enter isolation don’t.
Levy also talked about enforcing a ban on Arab Israelis traveling to the Palestinian territories and vice versa and maintaining closures or tight restrictions on red cities. On Wednesday, the Health Ministry also lowered the threshold for becoming a red city. Schools for grades five and up are not open in red and orange areas.
At the same time, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch told Ynet on Thursday that with the increase in morbidity, he did not see the mall pilot program, which was launched last week and ends on December 6, being extended.
“This is not the time to open the malls right now,” he said. He also mentioned the idea of implementing a night curfew over Hanukkah or banning intercity travel during the holiday period.
“I think we should consider closing other places that have opened as well,” Kisch told Ynet.
Either way, middle school students are expected to return to school on Sunday – the final stage in the plan to open up Israel’s education system.