Israel leads global COVID immunization drive

Published January 17, 2021, 1:44 PM

by Jaleen Ramos

With more than two million people already having received the vaccine, Israel is leading the world in inoculating its population against COVID-19.

A healthcare worker vaccinates a man with the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at a large vaccination centre open by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center on December 31, 2020 in the Israeli coastal city. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)

More than 20 percent of  Israel’s population of about 9 million has already gotten the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as of January 14. Israel plans to inoculate all of its population over the age of 16 by the end of March. The country’s vaccination campaign started last December 19. 

Beyond the vaccine procurement, the apparently smooth rollout was mainly on account of the country’s health funds called health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

“Two reasons: The fact that we are working as a multi-agency task force, where we are bringing to the table not only the health, the police, Ministry of Defence, and many other services. We are giving a lot of responsibility to the HMOs which are really running the community,” Dr. Asher Salmon of the Israeli Ministry of Health said during a virtual briefing.

“The second reason, I believe, is a combination of good, precise planning but still keeping space for flexibility.” he added.

Israel’s four HMOs contain information about patients under their care and personally deliver health messages to set them an appointment. Call centers, meanwhile, were also set up and would directly call residents, especially for the elderly, and tell them when and where to come and get vaccinated.

Salmon also cited four key principles for a successful inoculation process such as to vaccinate as quickly as possible to reduce morbidity and mortality, prioritize health workers on the first line and people over 60 years old, a strong campaign of briefings in the media to promote the importance of the vaccine, and tracking its side effects and risk management.

Although the details of the deal with Pfizer were not made public, Salmon said that under this agreement, Israel will provide information to the company about the age, gender, and medical history of those who will receive the vaccines as well as their side effects and efficacy.

Israel also assured that Palestinians will be immunized against the coronavirus as quickly as possible.

 “They are our closest neighbors, and around 100,000 Palestinians come to work in Israel every day. It would be impossible to cope with the pandemic without vaccinating the Palestinians,” explained Salmon.

Criticisms have mounted over Israel after reports that millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have not been given access to the vaccine.

“We are vaccinating Israeli citizens. That is basically what each country would do. We have to first vaccinate our citizens. But at the same time, we are very much aware about a major effort which is being done for the Palestinians,” he assured.