Hundreds of thousands of Israelis seek vaccine appointments

Health funds were inundated by requests to schedule appointments, so much so that systems crashed.

Medical staff receives vaccine in Ichilov Hospital, December 19, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Medical staff receives vaccine in Ichilov Hospital, December 19, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Doctors have been warning about the hospital system crashing due to the coronavirus, but what crashed this week were the websites and phone lines of the health funds, which are tasked with vaccinating Israeli citizens over 60 against the coronavirus.
The “Give a Shoulder” vaccination campaign got underway on Sunday for medical personnel and was expanded to anyone over 60 starting Monday. On Sunday, 10,000 medical professionals were vaccinated and about 200,000 appointments had been made by medical staff and citizens over 60, according to the Health Ministry.
But in many cases, getting those appointments was no easy feat.
While as much as half of the Israeli public expressed skepticism about the vaccine according to some surveys last week – worrying that it was rushed to market without thorough oversight – once these two groups were offered a chance to receive it, they jumped at the chance. The health funds were inundated by requests to schedule appointments, so much so that systems crashed. Other health-fund members spoke about being frustrated with the fact that there was no way to get through to the funds for any other issue.
In an informal survey of over-60 Israelis, the Maccabi health fund received the most complaints, especially on Sunday, with many members saying the phone system simply disconnected them seconds after they called. At first, the Maccabi website would not allow users to make appointments and the only way was to call, which overwhelmed the phone system.
One woman complained that she made 80 attempts to get through and watched a whole movie on Netflix while on hold. Another Maccabi member said she spent eight hours on hold but finally booked an appointment.
But Maccabi CEO Ran Saar promised improvements on Sunday night; on Monday afternoon, Maccabi was the only one of the four major health funds to allow users to make an appointment right away by phone in a test of all the major health fund phone lines. Maccabi had also started making appointments through its website.
Clalit and Leumit health funds had recordings saying that members should try back later. Meuhedet put callers on hold for several hours Monday, but it did allow for users to schedule appointments through its website and app.
On Monday, Maccabi opened vaccination complexes – designed to keep healthy people seeking vaccinations separate from those who are ill and need treatment – in Ashkelon, Jerusalem, Herzliya, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Holon. During the week, additional vaccine complexes will be opened in Kiryat Motzkin, Ra’anana, Beersheba, Bnei Brak, Dimona, Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, Nof Hagalil, Givatayim, Petah Tikva, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, Carmiel, Nahariya, Arad, Shfaram, Kiryat Shmona, Safed, Bat Yam and Netanya, Maccabi said.
Hundreds of members were vaccinated in the “Vaccine and Travel” complex that Maccabi opened Monday at the Sami Ofer Stadium in Haifa, which is the largest corona vaccine complex in Israel with more than 20 vaccination stations. The complex will operate seven days a week and can accommodate more than 1,500 people daily.
Saar said that “this is a happy and truly historic day. Tomorrow we will further expand the layout of the complexes and bring thousands of members. We all expected the vaccine and really see the excitement with the staff members and, of course, our patients.”
Some Israelis were philosophical about the delays. Said Barbara Sofer, “I think it’s great that we can just call the kupah [health fund] and get it... My American friends are jealous.”
AND NOW that thousands of Israelis have had the vaccine, how are they feeling? So far, so good, many reported on Monday.
“Received my first inoculation about an hour ago. It didn’t hurt any more than a regular flu shot might. Feeling fine so far. Also, I had a very short wait at Meuhedet Haturim in Jerusalem. Apparently, my appointment came at the end of a long line before me,” said Shel Bassel on Monday.
Gal Uchovsky, a movie producer, journalist and television personality, received his vaccine on Monday at Tel Aviv-Sourasky Medical Center and posted about it on social media. Reached later in the day, he said he was feeling fine.
One Haifa resident, who qualified for the vaccine both by virtue of being over 60 and because he has multiple sclerosis, said he felt fine after being vaccinated on Sunday and that “schlepping to the clinic” had been the most challenging part of the whole experience.
Martina Pospisilova, a nurse who was vaccinated at Sourasky where she works, said “I got my shot in Ichilov yesterday and continued with my shift without problems... so far I have no side effects whatsoever.” She added that she would be happy if her positive experience would inspire others to get vaccinated.
One man in his 80s said that “at first, lots of Israelis said they didn’t want to get vaccinated, but now all anyone I know is talking about is how hard it is to get an appointment to get vaccinated.” Asked what he planned to do first following his second dose of the vaccine in three weeks, he said, “Go sky-diving. I’m kidding! Hug my children and grandchildren. What else would I do?”