Large white tents have recently been erected on Rabinplatz in Tel Aviv. Here, in the heart of the city, where people often gather for protests or concerts in normal times, citizens should be able to get vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus from January 4th.
The provisional vaccination center, which the Ichilov Hospital organized together with the Tel Aviv City Hall, is supposed to handle 5000 people a day. “We will start to vaccinate the masses non-stop,” said Ronni Gamzu, the director of the hospital and until recently state corona officer. “All for one purpose: to wipe out Covid-19 for good.”
The vaccination station in the tent is just one element of a broad campaign launched by the state on December 20th. According to the Israeli Ministry of Health, almost half a million people had been vaccinated by Tuesday, a good five percent of the population. According to statistics from Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Israel is ahead in the world. Germany, on the other hand, has a vaccination quota of only 0.05 percent of the population under also ran.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that 150,000 people should have the virus injected every day by the weekend. Then the rate should even increase. “After a month we will have vaccinated 2.25 million Israeli citizens,” said Netanyahu. “There is nothing like it in the world.”
He himself was the first Israeli to have the syringe placed in his upper arm in front of the camera on December 19, followed by Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. A number of other politicians competed on Sunday, including President Reuven Rivlin and Finance Minister Israel Katz.
Medical facilities began immunizing their staff on the same day. The Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv hosted a real party to kick off the campaign: while the first candidates rolled up their sleeves, the pop star Ivri Lider gave a live concert in the hospital lobby, surrounded by doctors and nurses jumping and dancing. The cheerful event had a serious purpose: to convince people that vaccination was harmless and useful.
Many were initially skeptical
In Israel, too, many are skeptical of the new vaccines: only 63 percent recently said they were willing to vaccinate in surveys. But since the start of the campaign, the rush has been great. First of all, all citizens who are over 60 years old or belong to the risk group can be vaccinated. The vaccinations are issued through the four health insurances that divide the health market in Israel among themselves.
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Apparently, some of them were surprised by the rush: Some people interested in vaccinations report a large rush of telephone hotlines and waiting times of several weeks.
Then it should be the turn of those people who are exposed to a special risk of infection due to their work, including teachers and social workers. This is followed by soldiers and other security forces, after which the vaccination is open to the rest of the population. So far, pregnant and breastfeeding women, Israelis under 16 and all those who have already contracted the virus and are cured are excluded.
In spring, the situation should relax
Currently, Israel only uses the vaccine from the US pharmaceutical company Pfizer, of which two doses are required for immunization. According to local media, four to five million cans should be available to the state by the end of January – more than in Germany with its almost ten times as large population. In addition, the Israeli government has ordered six million doses of the vaccine from the US manufacturer Moderna, but these are not expected before April.
If everything runs smoothly from a logistical point of view – and this is supported by the vaccination figures so far – a clear easing of the situation in Israel could emerge as early as spring.
Israel goes into the third lockdown
Many citizens can hardly wait for a return to normality. Because Sunday started a third lockdown: Almost all shops have to close, people are only allowed to move one kilometer from their place of residence. The restrictions should apply for at least two weeks, probably longer. The government is trying to reduce the number of new infections every day, which recently rose to almost 4,000.
But although the rules sound strict on paper, little of it has been felt: the streets remain busy, and many small shops are rebelling against the opening ban. Officials warn of negligence on the last dry spell before the expected mass immunization.
But in many places the impression prevails that the authorities tolerate minor violations of the rules – perhaps knowing that society will only accept the third lockdown in this way. Like people elsewhere, the Israelis are longing for the end of the pandemic and its consequences with dwindling patience.