Coronavirus vaccine speed won’t hold back stricter lockdown

Coronavirus vaccine speed won’t hold back stricter lockdown

Israel is vaccinating faster than any country in the world, but according to health officials the pace is not going to be fast enough to prevent lengthening and tightening the lockdown. 

There were 5,809 new cases on Wednesday and another 3,519 on Thursday between midnight and press time, according to the Health Ministry.

The ministry reported that 5.7% of those people tested yielded positive results, less than the percentage reported by the ministry’s director-general, Chezy Levy. He said during a Thursday evening briefing that 6.2% of people test positive and “there are 30 new deaths and 10 new serious patients every day.”

The Health Ministry website showed 1,089 people were being treated in hospital, including 679 in serious condition. 

While the numbers may not directly align, one thing is for sure – they are climbing. 

According to Levy, Israel is still at the beginning of its vaccination campaign and it takes about five weeks after the first shot of the vaccine for it to be fully effective. As such, those who “were vaccinated 10 days or two weeks ago have some protection, but very partial.”

He said that “the duration of the lockdown is not really directly related to vaccines.”

Health officials have said that as more senior citizens and high-risk people are inoculated, Israel will start to see the number of serious cases go down. Levy said that once around 2.5 million citizens are vaccinated, the ministry would recommend opening the economy. 

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Until then, the Health Ministry does not believe that the closure in its current state will lower infection enough. By next week – 10 days since the lockdown started – the ministry could begin pushing for new restrictions. 

“We are constantly monitoring the morbidity and all the indices and we are planning the additional steps that we may need to take to reduce the rate of infection,” Levy said. “If we continue at this rate of morbidity and fail to reduce it – we will double the number of patients every two weeks, double the number of serious patients every five to six days” and could reach a state where the hospitals cannot manage their caseloads again. 

“We are waiting a while longer to see the effects of this lockdown,” he said. “It will be seen in a few days.”

Among the likely recommended restrictions: Shuttering classrooms for grades five through 10 again, reducing the number of people allowed in places of work and possibly further limiting movement.

At the same time, Levy said in an interview published by Maariv Online on Thursday that Israel may have to take a two-week break in vaccinating new people due to an expected shortage of vaccines and the need to hold on to an amount that can be used for the second “booster” shot required by people who have been inoculated once.

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“We will start a second round of vaccinations,” Levy said. “There will be a two-week break, but we are working on renewing the shipping inventory because we started a little ahead of time.”

At the same time, N12 reported that a million doses of the Moderna vaccine are ready to be shipped to Israel in January instead of March, as originally expected, but are delayed only because of approvals by the Health Ministry.

However, a statement by the ministry, that was further confirmed by Levy in an interview with the TV station later in the day, said that “we currently do not have information on any intention by Moderna to bring a million vaccines to Israel in advance. Once there is more information, of course it will be published.”

The Post reached out to Tal Zaks, the Israeli chief medical officer of the country, but had not received a response by press time. 

During his briefing, Levy was asked about whether Israel could opt to go with the British strategy and give more people one shot rather than insist on the two-shot regimen recommended by Pfizer. He said that, “Pfizer has built a vaccine that should be given in two doses. The first – and another one 21 days later… We believe that the vaccine should be given exactly as given in the trials, according to which the Food and Drug Administration gave authorization.”

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Levy added that even with the two-week delay and following protocol, it is likely that “young and healthy” Israelis will able to begin vaccinating by mid-February. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Arab town of Tira on Thursday evening and stopped at a Clalit vaccination center to encourage members of the sector to get the jab, 

“It is safe, it protects and gives the family and the state protection,” the prime minister stressed. “Everyone needs to be vaccinated.”

So far, vaccination among the Arab community has been the lowest in the country. Efrat has the highest percentage of its population vaccinated (53% of people over age 60), followed by Mevaseret Tzion (51%) and Eilat (48%).

According to Levy, about 33% of the population over the age of 60 has been vaccinated and about 80% of all people vaccinated are over the age of 60.

Israel currently has 257 vaccination stations and another 70 are expected to open Friday, Levy said.

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