More Than Half of Israelis Received Both COVID-19 Vaccine Doses

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
A healthcare professional prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Sheba Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

Israel has administered two doses of COVID-19 vaccine to more than half its population, the health minister said on Thursday, a world-beating rollout that has helped the country emerge from pandemic closures.

Distribution of the Pfizer Inc./BioNTech SA vaccine in Israel began in December, with eligibility extended to citizens and residents over the age of 16 – some 69% of the 9.3 million population. Vaccinees are deemed fully protected a week after receiving the second shot.

In a statement announcing the milestone amid a sustained drop in new COVID-19 cases, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on citizens “to follow [health] guidelines so that the coronavirus does not return.”

He said 50.07% of the overall population had received both vaccine doses, and 55.96% the first dose. Israel issues the fully vaccinated, and the around 8.7% of its population who have recovered from COVID-19 with presumed immunity, so-called “Green Pass” certificates that confer access to various leisure venues.

Israel began easing a nationwide lockdown in late February. Most businesses and schools, as well as airports, have gradually resumed activity – with caps on capacity.

The country has seen an 85% drop in daily COVID-19 deaths, a 72% decrease in the critically ill and 86% fewer daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic’s third peak in mid-January, according to Eran Segal, a data scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry Chezy Levi told Reuters he estimated that the entire population eligible for vaccination will be fully inoculated by the end of May.

About a third of the country is under 16 and cannot be vaccinated until the shot is deemed safe for children. This month the Health Ministry said that recovered COVID-19 patients could get vaccinated with one jab administered at least three months after recovery.

In Israel, some officials privately estimate that 10% of the eligible population do not intend to get vaccinated.