Millions of COVID-19 vaccines to arrive in Israel starting Sunday

Enough will arrive to vaccinate everyone over 16 by March, Netanyahu said.

A WOMAN receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Rehovot on Monday.  (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
A WOMAN receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Rehovot on Monday.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
Israel entered a third strict lockdown on Friday that will last at least two weeks, during which millions of new coronavirus vaccines are set to arrive, starting in the coming days.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday night that there will be enough vaccines to inoculate all Israelis over the age of 16 by the end of March.
“We will be the first country to emerge from the coronavirus,” Netanyahu said. “We will vaccinate all relevant populations and anyone who wants to can be vaccinated.”
The prime minister said that another shipment of vaccines is expected to land on Sunday, with many more to follow soon after. He said an agreement was struck with Pfizer to increase the number of the vaccines and the speed at which they will arrive, transforming Israel into a “model nation” for how to exit the pandemic.
“This is a breakthrough that will take us out of the coronavirus crisis and return us to life,” Netanyahu said. “This is how we will open the economy, go back to work, to the synagogue... to the lives that we love and miss,” he added.
“Returning to Life” is the name of the mass vaccination campaign, he said, and that Israel will “share with Pfizer and humanity as a whole the statistics that will help develop strategies to defeat the virus. We can do this because our health system is one of the most advanced in the world.”
The Health Ministry later explained that only “general data” will be provided to Pfizer, including data on pandemic morbidity, like the number of verified cases, seriously ill, dead and vaccinated. This is all data shared with the public. No personal data will be released, the ministry clarified.
The news came just hours before the country entered its third lockdown and against the backdrop of an announcement by Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz that teachers would receive priority to be vaccinated.
The country had planned to focus on administering second doses of the vaccine to those already inoculated, while putting new vaccinations on hold for at least a week. This was because the Health Ministry worried that the country would run out of vaccines to provide the second dose, which is needed to ensure maximum immunity.
The prime minister had been in constant dialogue with the companies in an effort to move up deliveries. In his remarks on Thursday, Netanyahu said that he had spoken with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla 17 times, including in the last day.
The Health Ministry reported on Thursday morning that 1,590,000 Israelis had received their first doses – around 17% of the population.
The Prime Minister’s Office later said that teachers would be vaccinated during the lockdown, starting with those in special education, to help ensure that they can return to school more safely when the lockdown is lifted.
The Teachers’ Union had threatened to strike if teachers are not inoculated.
“‘Finally, after more than half a year of working without a smile on our faces, we are now able to smile’ – I hear that from doctors and nurses,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said this week in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
He said that the country is committed to following the instructions of Pfizer and Moderna: two shots, 21 or 28 days apart, respectively.
“The Health Ministry will have enough vaccines to give them to anyone who wants” one, Edelstein said.
But he also noted that “right now we are moving in parallel on two different grooves. If you can imagine two racing cars, one is the car driven by the vaccine and the other one by the disease. We want to make sure that the vaccine car is the first to make it to the finish line, and unfortunately we have a very tough race ahead, because of the new mutations, variants... We definitely have a huge increase in the number of those infected by the disease in the last several days.”
Ahead of entering the lockdown at midnight, the Health Ministry reported 7,855 new virus cases on Wednesday and another 4,548 on Thursday between midnight and press time. Some 872 people were in serious condition, including 219 intubated. The death toll stood at 3,549.
However, there has been a slight decline in the number of positive cases in the last three days, as well as a decline in the percentage of people who tested positive – from 7.6% on Monday to 6.8% on Tuesday and 6.2% on Wednesday.
A media report said that the Health Ministry was concerned that passengers who returned to Israel from South Africa and tested positive for coronavirus may carry the South African coronavirus mutation but the ministry denied that to the Post.
However, a senior medical official who advises the government on the coronavirus said that he believes the ministry is investigating these cases.
So far, of at least 200 samples from returning travelers, none have been found to have the South African mutation.
Nonetheless, the Ministerial Committee for the Coronavirus approved on Thursday night that all Israelis who were in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia or Lesotho within 14 days of their arrival in Israel will now be required to quarantine in a state-run coronavirus hotel for between 10 to 14 days. The decision is valid through January 17 and then will be reevaluated.
“We are going into lockdown because the corona wards and the hospital ICUs are close to overload,” said President Reuven Rivlin in a special message to the public. “We are going into lockdown to protect our children. We, all of us, and without exceptions, must follow its rules. We are going into lockdown so as not to kill each other.”
Rivlin called on all public leaders to “do your duty and stop the threat of anarchy. The lockdown, with all its restrictions as decided by the government, applies to us all. Whatever your position, this lockdown is the decision of the government, Israel’s elected government, on the recommendation of the professional medical advisers responsible for our health, the health of the people as a whole, without any deviation or political views.”
The police said that they will employ some 5,000 additional officers across the country and roll out roadblocks on intercity roads to help enforce government directives.
But the question still remains whether law enforcement will be able to maintain order within the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and Arab sectors, where restrictions have consistently been broken and have not been strictly enforced. There is also worry that police will not be able to properly monitor some areas in the periphery where there are fewer officers.
“There will be better days,” Rivlin added. “We have gone through bad times in the past and have overcome them. The effect of the vaccine is close at hand, and we will return to normality. Until then, we must be patient and disciplined, and do everything we can to minimize infection.”
Greer Fay Cashman contributed to this report.