By Dr. Ilan Fuchs
Faculty Member, Legal Studies
In the past three weeks, Israel has been in an immunization frenzy since the first COVID-19 vaccines arrived in Israel from Pfizer. Almost 1.5 million Israelis have now received the vaccination.
At this point, Israel is waiting for more doses of the vaccination from Pfizer and also from Moderna. Until those medications come, there will be a drop in the number of people receiving the vaccination. But next week, all of those people who received the first dose will be administered the second per the protocol of those vaccinations.
Israel Has Ordered COVID-19 Vaccines from Everyone Willing to Sell
How is Israel succeeding in this fast-paced operation? Not surprisingly, the first step for Israel has been to order as much of the COVID-19 vaccine as possible from everyone that is willing to sell.
Like other countries, the Israeli government bought vaccines for a price that is undisclosed from producers well before the vaccination was approved. The prime example would be Canada, which bought enough doses of the vaccine per capita.
That comes to almost nine doses of the vaccine per person. “Canada has done exactly what we would expect a high-income country to do, and they’ve done the right thing by their country,” says Andrea Taylor at Duke.
Right now, it is unclear how many doses are in Israel. Unconfirmed numbers floating in the Israeli press mention 3.8 million doses from Pfizer, and more will come from Moderna and AstraZeneca in the coming months. But this is more than a game of numbers; the rapid success of the vaccine distribution has to do with Israel’s infrastructure and culture.
Israel has a history of socialized medicine. For over a century, there has been an infrastructure of socialized medicine that predates the establishment of the state of Israel.
The Zionist-Socialist Jews who came to build a Jewish homeland were quick to create a healthcare system, now embedded in Israeli culture. Today, Israel has a national healthcare system.
Israel’s Socialized Medical System Has Helped with Vaccine Distribution
In this system, all Israelis join one of several healthcare providers that offer different levels of coverage. These organizations have the infrastructure for a mass vaccination operation.
These organizations have the real estate, the personnel and the lists of patients. Together, these healthcare providers organized their efforts and created centers to vaccinate the masses in a shorter period of time.
Israeli Culture Has Also Played a Part in Vaccine Distribution
Israeli culture is also part of the vaccination story. Israel has its anti-vaxxers (people opposed to any vaccination) as well as people who would like some time to pass before they take a vaccine developed at record speed. But the vast majority of Israelis trust the medical experts without hesitation, and they showed that trust by standing in line to get the shot.
Other Communities in Israel Are Less Willing to Receive Vaccinations
There are lower rates of vaccination among the Charedi population and among the Arab communities. Both communities are less trusting of the medical establishment and are weary of the vaccine. It remains to be seen how that will unfold in the coming months.
The Israeli press reports that many Arab citizens in Israel are not rushing to get the vaccine: “While a few vaccination centers have been erected in Arab towns and cities, many facilities reported that most of those waiting in line were Jews. In Umm al-Fahm, Shfaram, and Nazareth — three major Arab Israeli cities — more than 75 percent of those vaccinated over the past few days have been Jews.”
Organizations Will Need Vaccine Storage Facilities with Deep-Freeze Capabilities
Beyond that, there are talks about Israel supplying vaccinations to the Palestinian Authority. This will be a complicated operation since the vaccine will require facilities to have deep-freeze capabilities for some of the vaccinations. Since Israel ordered vaccinations from several sources, it will probably have the resources to assist the Palestinian Authority.
A One-Dose Local Vaccine Will Debut Later This Year in Israel
In April, Israel will also see the phase three experiment of a local vaccination. Unlike the vaccine developed by Moderna and Pfizer, this one requires only one dose.
Prof. Shmuel Shapira, who has been running the vaccination development process at the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) in Ness Ziona, reported to the Israeli parliament committee on health that the third and final phase of testing in humans is expected to begin in April. Distribution of the vaccine could start as early as next summer.
He added that three million doses were produced, and 12 million more will be produced in the next months. Phase three testing is expected to include 30,000 participants.
The Israeli Vaccine Used a Different Development Method
The Israeli vaccine is based on a different scientific route, unlike the vaccines that are currently used that are based on mRNA (a technology that includes RNA that causes the ribosomes to produce proteins that trigger an immune response). The Israeli vaccine is based on a virus that is not dangerous for humans, which was modified to contain the instructions for a viral protein and will trigger an immune response.
The Weitzman Institute for Science made clear that “It is very likely that the vaccines will spell the end of the pandemic, but their approval doesn’t mean that we will be returning to normal any time soon. That will take at least a few more months. The first obstacle is making the vaccines widely available: It will take time until there are sufficient doses for the entire population of the country and the world.
“Initially, the vaccines will help protect the most vulnerable populations and critical healthcare workers. Until the majority of the public is vaccinated, we will have to continue employing the now-familiar protection means of physical distancing and masks.”
Developing a local vaccine is a great accomplishment of the Israeli government. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, will most likely mention this success in his bid to run again for election. Optimistic voices in Israel hope that we will see the end of the pandemic in the first half of 2021.