Israel’s vaccine drive reaches almost half population as Pfizer jab offers 95% protection

Tom Batchelor
·2 min read
People queue to enter a shop in Jerusalem on Sunday after Israel reopened cultural hubs and shopping malls (EPA)
People queue to enter a shop in Jerusalem on Sunday after Israel reopened cultural hubs and shopping malls (EPA)

Israel’s vaccination drive has reached almost half of the country’s population, and parts of the economy beginning to reopen on Sunday – but only to those who are vaccinated, or are presumed to have immunity and can prove it with a “green pass”.

The country has administered at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine to more than 46 per cent of its 9 million people, the health ministry said.

But it has faced criticism for excluding Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from its otherwise successful inoculation efforts.

On Sunday, while shops opened to everyone, access to gyms, hotels and theatres was limited to people who had received the second dose of the vaccine at least a week ago, or who had recovered from the disease. Their status is confirmed to businesses via a health ministry app.

Schools have also reopened after a nearly two-month closure, with the entire education system expected to return to normal by the beginning of next month.

Coronavirus is still spreading rapidly in Israel and restrictions on movement and assembly have remained in place, along with mask wearing and social-distancing.

The loosening of restrictions comes exactly a year after Israel’s first documented coronavirus case.

“Vaccinated? Get the Green Pass and get back to life,” tweeted Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who is up for reelection next month.

The green pass is intended to allow low-risk individuals to eat at restaurants, attend cultural events and take foreign holidays. But rollout of the app has been plagued by technical difficulties.

The website that issues the passes crashed hours before the system was to go into operation and remained out of service on Saturday night, The Times of Israel reported.

“There are heavy loads on the service issuing the green pass, and therefore there may be difficulties,” the ministry said.

“At the same time, most applications have been completed successfully and tens of thousands of people have already have their green pass.”

There have also been reports of people attempting to forge the pass to gain access to the reopened venues.

Data from Israel’s vaccine programme showed that the risk of illness from the virus dropped 95.8 per cent among people who received both shots, the health ministry said on Saturday.

The jabs were 99.2 per cent effective at preventing serious illness and 98.9 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation, the data showed.

“The vaccine dramatically reduces serious illness and death and you can see this influence in our morbidity statistics,” said Chezy Levy, director-general of the health ministry.

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