The Health Ministry has reportedly asked the country’s health maintenance organisations to prepare plans to inoculate two million people against the coronavirus within a six-week period, when enough vaccines are available.
The first of two jabs required for immunisation would be administered within 21 days, and the second within 21 days after that, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday, citing sources in the Health Ministry.
However, the country’s four health funds may be hard pressed to keep to such a fast pace. The largest, Clalit, has the capacity to vaccinate 40,000 people a day, Maccabi 25,000, Meuhedet 10,000 and Leumit 7,000, for a total capacity of only about 80,000 a day, the report said.
A further complication is that the vaccines, which are stored in deep freeze, must be used within five days of their removal from cold storage. A national vaccine storage and distribution centre has been set up in the southern Negev desert region where the millions of vaccines that Israel has ordered are to be warehoused and then sent around the country.
On Sunday, the Israel Defence Forces offered to help out with distributing the vaccine, citing the military’s logistical knowhow. However, the HMOs strongly oppose the idea, according to the Kan report.
Even when the vaccine arrives, officials fear large swaths of the public may be averse to receiving the shots. Polls in Israel and abroad have shown many fear the extraordinarily fast approval process for the vaccines may make them less safe.
The first Israelis expected to be vaccinated are those working in medical services, the elderly and people at especially high risk.
During a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that a committee comprised of professionals in relevant fields has been charged with handling the vaccinations and that “political elements” should stay out of the way.
According to some Hebrew media reports, citing leaks from the select panel of ministers overseeing policy to counter the virus outbreak, Netanyahu made the remarks after his political rival Defence Minister Benny Gantz asked to be updated on the vaccination project.
“There is a professional committee that was established and is dealing with the issue of vaccines including the manner in which they will be allocated,” Netanyahu said, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office regarding his remarks at the opening of the meeting.
“Political elements must be kept away from it, as is the case around the world,” Netanyahu said. “We have checked this in other countries and this is what they do there. This is a completely professional committee.”
Netanyahu and fellow Likud party member Health Minister Yuli Edelstein have made several celebratory pronouncements regarding Israel’s procurement of vaccines, taking credit for making sure Israel is high on global recipient lists.
Politicians in Gantz’s Blue and White party, meanwhile, have complained that they don’t even know how many doses Israel is getting or when they will get here, and demanded that Netanyahu provide more details.
At the cabinet meeting Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry’s acting head of public health, warned ministers that the administration of vaccines will begin in the next few weeks, it will be months before they can be expected to have a real impact.
“The arrival of the doses and vaccination on a significant scale will only occur in March,” she said. “This is assuming they are effective and the public responds,” according to media reports of leaks from the meeting.
She also advised that Israel not rely on the vaccine alone for its pandemic exit strategy.
After hours of discussions, the meeting ended without any decisions on a strategy to contain the coronavirus in light of the recent rise in infections. It did extended existing remaining national lockdown regulations by 48 hours. Netanyahu said a vote on new measures would be held on Monday instead.
A month-long lockdown begun in September — Israel’s second since the start of the outbreak — has gradually been rolled back but virus cases have again risen, gaining an ever-more rapid rate of infection.
Health officials have increasingly warned Israel is facing an imminent third wave of coronavirus infections, with Edelstein reportedly telling associates Sunday that the country was in danger of entering a third lockdown if action is not taken within days to curb the outbreak.
On Friday, Israel signed an agreement with Moderna to triple the number of vaccines the American pharmaceutical company will supply. The original agreement for two million doses was expanded to six million — enough for three million Israelis.
TV networks reported Thursday that Israel is also set to receive up to four million doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine by the end of this month — enough for two million people.
The combined five million vaccines would be enough to inoculate over half of Israel’s population of nine million.
Israel is also in talks with other companies to obtain their vaccines and is working, at a slower pace on its own home-produced immunisation.
There are 13,149 active coronavirus patients in Israel, according to Health Ministry figure released Sunday evening. Since the start of the outbreak earlier this year there have been 344,798 people diagnosed with the coronavirus and 2,915 have died from COVID-19, the disease it causes.