Israel is delivering the world's fastest COVID-19 vaccination drive by far, writes MedicalBrief. More Israelis have now been vaccinated than caught the virus.
In the vulnerable above 60s age group, more than 70% have received their first shot. It is predicted that the proportion of over 60s among the critically ill will drop from 70% to just 20% by mid-January.
Israel’s vaccination programme covers all Israeli citizens over 16 but currently excludes the millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Hamas-led Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority hopes to receive vaccines through the WHO-led partnership, Covax.
Israel is not just ahead of all nations but the pace of its rollout is astonishing, writes The Telegraph. How is it being done? And what might other countries learn from it?
“It’s really being treated like a war… and Israel is experienced in battles,” said Professor Allon Moses, Director of the Hadassah Medical Organisation's Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.
“The hospitals are involved, the community clinics are involved, the army enlisted about 700 paramedics to help with the injections of the vaccine… It’s very similar to battle: you have an enemy, you have the right ammunition … and you just have to deliver”.
Israel ordered eight million doses of the Pfizer vaccination – enough to inoculate four million of its 9.29 million population. The country also has an agreement to receive six million doses of the Moderna vaccine – although it is not expected to arrive earlier than April.
The vaccination drive began on December 20 – 12 days after Britain. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu becoming the first Israeli to be vaccinated live on TV. Netanyahu said Israel aims to have inoculated over two million Israelis by the end of January. It has just, 10 January, Sunday, precisely three weeks after it began its national inoculation drive, it passed the 1.7 million mark.
Initially, the drive prioritised healthcare workers, the over 60s and groups considered at-risk by virtue of either their age, health or occupation. Now, priority is also being given to teachers, after a decision for schools to mostly resume normal service.
The country’s health care system is highly digitised which has helped speed the rollout. All citizens over 18 must be registered with one of four competing non-profit health insurance plans – known as Health Maintenance Organisations (HMOs). As soon as the vaccine became available, text and voice messages were sent out to eligible cohorts telling them to make an appointment.
But unlike the UK, the system is has a “push” as well as a “pull” function. If you have been forgotten or somehow overlooked you can simply call your HMO, give your ID number and receive an appointment close to your location. Appointments are often arranged for the following day.
The Israeli system also has incentives beyond the inoculation itself. It is set to become the first country to start issuing a “green passport” to residents who have received the full two-dose vaccine – effectively a passport out of lockdown. The passport will be automatically issued by the ministry two weeks after the second required dose of the vaccine has been delivered.
The certificate will allow residents to travel abroad without a PCR test, exempt them from some mandatory quarantines and offer access to cultural events and restaurants when the current national lockdown has been lifted.
Demand for the vaccinations has been so high reports have circled of non-eligible people waiting outside vaccination centres hoping to receive left-over doses of the vaccine at the end of each day – shots which might otherwise go to waste.
“This type of strategy pulls the public opinion’s toward agreeing to be vaccinated. I see all around me people changing their minds and wanting to receive a vaccine,” said Moses. “The only thing that will slow down the rate of vaccinations now will be if there is a delay in any deliveries”.
Initially, only large vaccination centres were opened in central locations, but smaller neighbourhood sites – said to be a key part of the vaccination drive – are set to open to ensure that it is accessible to everyone. By the end of the week, 250 sites are expected to be operating throughout the country.
The use of larger centres “relates to vaccine supply,” Ian Miskin, head of coronavirus care and vaccination for the Clalit healthcare provider, told the Times of Israel.
“The bottles, which come from a very cold deep freeze, are delivered to us in batches of 195 bottles, which is a total of 975 doses. To protect bottles, this is how they are packed, and we aren’t allowed to move them after delivery. But as they can only be kept after defrosting for four days, every place the vaccine goes it needs [to] be given to almost 250 people a day, which is why we’re operating in large central locations,” he said.
The government has also stepped up its efforts in targeting disinformation around the vaccine, with medical professionals “almost always” on TV reassuring people that the vaccine is safe. The Israeli justice ministry said that, at its request, Facebook took down four groups at the start of the vaccination drive that had disseminated texts, photographs and videos with “deliberately mendacious content designed to mislead about coronavirus vaccines”.
“About 70 per cent of the severely ill patients are over 60, which is the target population for the vaccine, so in the next two to three weeks we will see a big change in the type of infection and it will mostly be mild and moderate infections, far fewer will be severely ill,” Moses said.
Despite the vaccination drive, Israel became the first country in the world to enter a third full national lockdown last week as the number of cases soared to above 5,000 per day, the highest it has been in over three months. The death toll stood at 3,645 on 10 January.
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