How has Israel Vaccinated against Covid-19 So Quickly?

Israel is far and away the world leader in Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, and looks certain to be the first country to be fully vaccinated. As of 25 January, according to Politico, Israel (pop. 9 million) had given out 3.8 million shots of the Pfizer vaccine. 

This means that 44 per cent of its population has received at least one shot of the vaccine. This makes its roll-out four times faster than the UK’s vaccination rate and seven times faster than the US’s. In turn, the US and UK have both vaccinated faster than European countries.

How is Israel managing its vaccine roll-out?

Israel is doing the basic things right on the vaccine. The country has a high-quality universal healthcare system. Moreover, public confidence in the health system is high, which aids in vaccine roll-out.

It has also set up hundreds of new vaccination centres, and has involved the military in distribution and injection of the vaccine. According to the New York Times, there are 700 Israeli army medics working at vaccination clinics.

Part of its success is also due to its national digitized health records system. This has facilitated roll-outs to the various vaccine priority groups.

One Israeli man told The Atlantic that when he saw on the news that his demographic was now able to get the vaccine, his two appointments (exactly three weeks apart) were confirmed within minutes. He logged onto his health record, selected a convenient vaccination centre, made an appointment and received an immediate confirmatory text message.

Thanks in part to this highly organized public health system, Israel positioned itself as a priority customer for the pharmaceutical companies. Israel agreed to transmit weekly data about the effectiveness of the vaccine to the company. In exchange, Pfizer ensured the country an early and steady supply of the vaccine, even amidst ongoing production delays, which have forced countries in the EU to accept slow-downs in vaccination rates.

The Israeli government has also put forward the funds to back this up. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing re-election in March, has made himself the public face of the vaccination campaign. While details are unclear, some sources suggest the government paid double what the US and EU have been paying per shot.

Benjamin Netanyahu was the first Israeli vaccinated.

Buttressed by this public campaign, support for vaccination is about 90 per cent among Israelis. Yet among both Arab Israelis and the Ultra-Orthodox, the rate is half that.

Questions over roll-out to Palestinians

While Israel is vaccinating Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, there have been disputes over the Israeli government’s responsibility to make the vaccine available to citizens of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Those echoing the concerns include progressive US Democrats Jamaal Bowman and Rashida Tlaib.

The Israeli government is arguing that the Palestinian Authority is responsible for Gaza and the West Bank. If it is considered an “occupying power,” Israel would be responsible for vaccination under the Geneva Conventions, according to which it should “import the necessary medical supplies … when the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.”

The Israeli government says it will consider vaccinating residents of these territories once Israel proper is entirely vaccinated. If it makes good on this – arguably a big “if” – Palestinians could end up being vaccinated well before many citizens in Australia and other wealthy countries.

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