Israel juggles supplies, pace in bid for full vaccination of at-risk groups

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JERUSALEM – Israel is juggling supplies and pace in its COVID-19 vaccination drive in the hope of meeting a late-January goal of full protection for its most vulnerable people, officials said on Thursday.

Having begun the vaccinations on Dec. 19, Israel is now administering more than 150,000 doses a day. Top priority are the quarter of its 9 million population who are over 60, suffer from risky health problems or are medical workers.

Some other lucky citizens have managed to get vaccinated, witnesses and officials at Israel’s main health providers say – often as clinic “walk-ins” who were given surplus injections which would otherwise have had to be thrown away at the end of the day.

But the Health Ministry is husbanding supplies closely. That means pushing back against public expectations that the campaign might soon be opened up to all adults or the at-risk criteria expanded to include groups like teachers.

Early January will see an “abeyance” of about two weeks in the administering of first doses, ministry director-general Hezi Levy said, to ensure that those who already got them get their scheduled follow-up booster injections.

“We are doing everything in our power to bring forward supplies” of Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc vaccines that might allow for broadening out the campaign by February, he told Kan radio, saying the age threshold could then be lowered to 50.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will in February be the first country to “emerge” from the health crisis, thanks to the vaccines, adding that it would attain sufficient doses for all other groups within weeks.

How this might happen given global scarcity was not clear.

One Health Ministry official, Yaron Niv, said in a separate Kan interview that each dose cost the country $62.

It was not clear to what extent the disparity with the European Union agreement to pay 15.50 euros per dose for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, might be due to secondary outlay in Israel.

Otherwise, Israel is emphasising thrift.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told reporters an Israeli firm had safely subdivided the frozen Pfizer vaccine trays so that smaller batches can be thawed and deployed.

Some health providers have been extracting six, rather than the advertised five, usable doses from each Pfizer vial, an official said.

Reuters

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