Israel expands vaccination drive to include 16 to 18-year-olds in bid to save exams

Abbie Cheeseman
·3 min read
Michael, a 16-year-old teenager, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at Clalit Health Services, in Tel Aviv - Jack Guez/AFP
Michael, a 16-year-old teenager, receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at Clalit Health Services, in Tel Aviv - Jack Guez/AFP

Israel will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday for a week as it seeks to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants.

"Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign," said Benjamin Netanuahu, the Israeli prime minister.

It came as a study in Israel reported a 60 per cent drop in over-60s being hospitalised with coronavirus three weeks after being vaccinated, in the latest sign that the jabs are effective.

According to Maccabi, an Israeli healthcare provider, there was a significant decrease in hospitalisations from day 23 onwards, which was two days after patients received their second jab.

Also on Sunday, Israel expanded its rapid vaccination drive to include 16-18 year-olds in an effort to get them back in schools to take their winter examinations. The winter matriculation certificate is a significant part of university and military admissions.

At least one dose has been administered to around a quarter of Israel’s 9 million-strong population.

The vaccine is generally available to over 40s or, with parental permission, those aged between 16 and 18.

Israel struck a deal with Pfizer at the beginning of January that allowed them to expedite delivery of the vaccine, in return for sharing extensive data on their vaccination campaign with the rest of the world.

Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli health minister, told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the data from their vaccination programme suggests a first dose offered around 30 per cent protection from coronavirus.

“We are just at the beginning of the [vaccination] campaign, we do see cases of people that after getting the first dose still get sick with the coronavirus,” he said.

"At the same time there are some encouraging signs of less severe diseases, less people hospitalised after the first dose, so at this stage, it's very difficult to say."

Mr Edelstein said Israel had decided to stick to the instructions given by Pfizer on how soon to give the second dose after the first.

"We are collecting every piece of information, we are hoping to be able to say very soon that the number of those hospitalised has gone down," he said.

Mr Edelstein also addressed criticism over Israel not offering vaccines to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

"As far as vaccination is concerned I think it is Israel's obligation first and foremost to its citizens - they pay taxes for that, don't they?" the health minister said.

"But having said that I do remember that it is our interest - not our legal obligation but our interest - to make sure Palestinians get the vaccine, that we don't have Covid-19 spreading.

"If it is the responsibility of the Israeli health ministry to take care of the Palestinians, what exactly is the responsibility of the Palestinian health minister - to take care of the dolphins in the Mediterranean?"