Israeli ministers met the arrival of 700,000 more Covid-19 Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines as they would visiting dignitaries on Sunday, as an El Al flight from Belgium touched down with its precious cargo.
It comes as the country managed to negotiate an advanced shipment in return for giving the US and Germany pharmaceutical giants statistical data from its vaccine rollout, with 1.8 million Israelis already protected against the virus.
“This is a huge day for the State of Israel,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he met the plane with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein.
Almost three quarters of Israelis over the age of 60 have been vaccinated and “another huge shipment” of vaccines will arrive next Sunday, when medics aim to start vaccinating people aged 50 and over.
“We will advance at a pace of 170,000 vaccinations a day,” said Netanyahu, who is in campaign mode ahead of a March election. “This is a world record. We will be the first country to emerge from the coronavirus health crisis and from the crisis.”
Last week Netanyahu said a supply agreement with Pfizer meant that all Israelis over the age of 16 could be vaccinated by the end of March – around the time of the election. Officials are exploring night-time vaccinations to this end.
The prime minister said Israel’s vaccination rate, which has been ten times as fast as those in the US and UK, had made it “a global model state” for rapid rollout, adding that sharing that data would help to “develop strategies for defeating the virus”.
Take-up rates for the jab – which has been offered through several large vaccination centres – have generally been high, but lower among some Israeli groups, notably Israeli Arabs, who make up roughly a fifth of the population.
Among the Israelis now eligible for vaccination are teachers continuing to work during the country’s national lockdown, such as in special education. The countrywide shutdown came into effect on Friday.
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