Israel: A Test Case in Mass Vaccination

Courtesy of AP Photo - Tsafrir Abayov

By Carly Kramer

Since December 14, 2020, the United States has been administering vaccine doses to the general public. In just a few months, the country has managed to administer almost 200 million vaccines to its residents. While this is certainly cause for celebration, the world’s leader in vaccinations remains Israel. With many nations still in the early stages of vaccine deployment, there is much to be learned from Israel’s approach.  

Israel has a population of just over 9.3 million people, comparable to New Jersey’s population. The country has exclusively received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which can be used to vaccinate anyone who is 16 years or  older. Israel secured the vaccine very quickly by paying $50 per dose, double the rate paid by the European Union. The nation also agreed to provide its vaccination data to Pfizer for further research. Within the first two weeks of receiving vaccines, 10 percent of the general population had received one shot. After healthcare workers, high-risk individuals, and individuals over 60 years old were vaccinated, Israel began administering first doses to the general population. The country coordinated its mass vaccination efforts through the nation’s four insurance providers. The sign-up process was mostly electronic, and every effort was made not to waste any doses of the vaccine.  

The country has also created an incentive system for its citizens to get vaccinated. One week after Israeli  citizens have received both doses of the vaccine, they receive a “green pass,” a scannable QR code from the  Health Ministry. The QR code can be downloaded or printed out, allowing citizens to participate in a number of  “normal” activities. By having this QR code, they can go to bars, movie theaters, gyms, public pools, and can buy tickets for sporting events. As of March 17, of this year, 4.6 million people, or 49.1 percent of Israelis have received both doses of the vaccine. Additionally, 5.2 million people have received one dose, or 55.7 percent of  the population.  

Because Israel has managed to vaccinate so many people in a short period of time, it is already generating data about vaccine efficacy from the country’s general population. A February 2021 study of the more than 600,000 fully-vaccinated Israelis showed an actual efficacy rate of 94 percent. In November 2020, scientists found that this vaccine had an efficacy rate of 95 percent during clinical trials. The scientists did not know how the vaccine would perform in the real world, though. So, this early data from Israel confirmed that the vaccine was highly effective against Covid-19. Furthermore, preliminary data from the country also showed a significant decline in hospitalizations, deaths, and community transmissions of the disease.  

Starting April 19, all adults in the United States will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine. According to CDC data  from April 12, 21.3 percent of the total U.S. population is fully vaccinated, and 35.3 percent of the population  has received at least one dose. Although many Americans have experienced vaccine hesitancy, getting  vaccinated against Covid-19 is the path back to normalcy. By looking at Israel, Americans can see the  effectiveness of mass vaccination against the worst of the virus.

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