TEL AVIV—Israel has inoculated nearly half of its most at-risk citizens and more than 10% of the population in two weeks as authorities accelerate a Covid-19 vaccination drive after early hiccups had led to wasted shots.
The small country—with roughly nine million people, about the same as New York City—now aims to immunize the majority of its people by early spring. Israel’s vaccination campaign is relatively simple compared with the mass mobilizations needed by countries with many more people and a greater sweep of geography.
Israel started with vaccinating its health-care workers and those over the age of 60 on Dec. 20 after receiving early shipments of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine. By Saturday, it had administered 12.59 doses per 100 of its people, according to the Oxford University-based research group Our World In Data. That rate of inoculation is nearly four times quicker than the second-fastest nation, the tiny Arab Gulf state of Bahrain.
“The health system is proving itself,” said Health Minister
in an interview Thursday with The Wall Street Journal. Israel boasts of a technologically advanced health-care system to which everyone in the country is registered by law.
The rollout offers insights into how authorities are attempting to maximize the campaign’s coverage for the most vulnerable while minimizing wastage of doses, which must be kept extraordinarily cold to keep them from going bad.
After Israel was forced to dump hundreds of doses as fewer-than-expected people turned up to be inoculated, authorities cut back on the number of vials being dispatched to vaccination centers and allowed anyone willing to get the shot to jump the queue. Those steps allowed Israel to quickly cut wastage and reach out to more people, officials say.
Pfizer’s vaccine, made with partner
must be administered within a five-day window after it leaves the main storage center, and six hours once out of a fridge, according to Israeli authorities, who say they are following Pfizer’s rules.
To cope with that short shelf life and help authorities reach less populated and isolated areas, Israel began splitting some of Pfizer’s 1,000-dose packages into smaller consignments of a few hundred each. The system, in which workers repackage the vials in workstations within massive freezers, was approved by Pfizer before being implemented, Mr. Edelstein said.
Israel also enacted a policy that allows vaccine centers facing soon-to-be wasted surplus to inoculate anyone who shows up. This has led to scenes around the country of citizens both young and middle-aged queuing up at vaccine centers, hoping to get an early shot.
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