Israel’s vaccine rollout

How Israel’s roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine is the fastest worldwide

Netanyahu receives his COVID jab. Photo by Amir Cohen/AFP.

4 minute read — By Derry Salter

During the second wave of the pandemic, Israel had one of the highest coronavirus infection rates worldwide. The country saw numerous protests against its faulty coalition government, which eventually caved in from the pressure, calling a snap election on 22nd December. Just over a fortnight later, the country signed a ‘booster’ agreement with pharmaceutical company Pfizer for an increase in doses.

Israel has given a first dose of Pfizer’s vaccine to 55 percent of its 9 million citizens within six weeks. Like many other countries, Israel prioritised key workers and those over the age of 60. However, the extraordinary efficiency of the programme has seen people in the 40-year age bracket being vaccinated. By the end of March, Israel hopes to have vaccinated its entire population of adults, and two months after that, 80 percent of its entire population. The UK, a country also being praised for its vaccination programme, has given a first dose to 14 percent of the country – 4 times smaller coverage than Israel has achieved. How has a seemingly dysfunctional government achieved such success?

The Israeli government are working closely with Pfizer for better access to the vaccine. In return, they are providing anonymous data concerning the sex and demographic of those that have been vaccinated. Reports claim that the Israeli government were willing to pay the highest price, with one source citing a price of $30 per dose, double the average. Israel’s universal healthcare system has made this path to full vaccination more realistic as each citizen has a digital health record.

Israel’s early success can be attributed to the government’s search early on for a way to secure doses of the vaccine. In June 2020, Israel was one of the first countries to sign an agreement with Moderna. By November, the country also had signed additional agreements with AstraZeneca and Pfizer. Furthermore, Israel is clearly well prepared in comparison to the rest of the world. There are 335 drive-through vaccination clinics country wide, allowing people to be vaccinated quicker.  On January 19th, Israel announced its new daily record of more than 210,000 vaccinations in the space of 24 hours.

The fast rollout was underpinned by a successful storage and distribution process. The supply is currently being kept underground near Israel’s main airport, with thirty freezer units holding over 5 million doses. Israel has developed advanced logistics to keep the vaccine at its optimum temperature whilst transporting it across the country; the doses are currently being packed in boxes the size of a pizza box. Furthermore, healthcare professionals have been able to obtain more than one vaccine dose out of each vial. This method has been approved by Pfizer as well as proving to be successful in increasing the rollout of the vaccine.

Occupied territories, however, like the West Bank and Gaza Strip, are missing out on the fast-tracked vaccination programme. According to the Israeli government, this is the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. The Fourth Geneva Convention disagrees, declaring that Israel – as the occupying country – bears the responsibility. There are further stipulations over the privacy issues concerning Israel’s close relationship with Pfizer. Some question whether one’s individual medical data should be shared with a profit-making company. These arguments may be valid, but the rate that the country is vaccinating its citizens is an undeniable success.

As the rest of the world tries to catch up with Israel’s fast roll-out, it is clear that there is hope for a higher number of vaccinations in the near future.