Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein received the first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in Israel on Motzoei Shabbbos at an event that was live-streamed as part of the campaign to encourage the public to get the vaccine.
“It’s a small shot for a person and a huge step toward the health of us all,” the prime minister said.
They were inoculated at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer by the prime minister’s doctor, Dr. Zvi Herman Berkowitz.
“This is a very big day for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said before receiving the vaccine. “We have been experiencing for almost a year the worst pandemic that humanity has known in the last century and this is the beginning of the end. We have brought millions of vaccines to our little State and everyone needs to be vaccinated. I asked to be vaccinated first with [Health] Minister [Yuli] Edelstein to set a personal example.
“I think if we do this together, we will beat the coronavirus – and sooner than people expect,” he later added.
Edelstein spoke emotionally about how when he looked at the date – December 19 – he discovered it was the same day in 1984 that his trial took place in the USSR because of his desire to immigrate to Israel.
“Today, December 19, 2020, I have the great privilege to be health minister in the Israeli government,” he said. “Friends, there are good reasons for optimism.”
Shortly after the two were vaccinated, they said that they felt “great.”
On Sunday, President Reuven Rivlin will be vaccinated at Hadassah-University Medical Center, and coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash at a Maccabi health clinic in Herzliya, along with thousands of medical professionals across Israel.
“I call on everyone to come and get vaccinated – and make sure first that all of your relatives who are at risk, especially older adults, do so as soon as possible,” Defense Benny Gantz said on Friday.
He, too, will be vaccinated on Sunday.
A poll by the Israel Medical Association published over the weekend found that 82% of doctors intend to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The country’s four health funds (kupot cholim) have published their vaccination schedules in the last few days, opening up hotlines and making appointments to begin Monday for Israel’s over-60 population as well as those with underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for developing a serious case of the disease.
“If indeed the Israelis are vaccinated at a rate of about 50,000 people per day from the beginning of January or a little earlier, then the vaccines will begin to affect the morbidity already in February,” wrote Prof. Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in an opinion piece published by Channel 12.
According to his models, it will only take about another six or seven weeks at the current rate of infection to reach 1,000 seriously ill patients in Israel’s hospitals. But he said that around the same time, the vaccines should begin to take effect. “Once we start vaccinating at a high rate, it can be estimated that in a month and a half to two months later, we will see a very significant decrease in both mortality and severe morbidity,” Segal wrote.
There are already about 600,000 Pfizer vaccine doses in the country. Millions more are expected by the end of December.
Israel also has contracts with Moderna and AstraZeneca for their respective vaccine candidates.