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Friday, February 26, 2021

Explained: Early learnings from Israel’s Covid-19 vaccination strategy

Israel began vaccinating its population on December 19 after procuring “hundreds of thousands” of vaccines for an undisclosed amount--reportedly a premium--from Pfizer and BioNTech.

Written by Prabha Raghavan , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 27, 2021 8:12:52 am
Israelis receive a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from medical professionals at a vaccination center set up on a mall parking lot in Givataim. (AP)

Despite witnessing a surge in Covid-19 cases and initiating a fresh lockdown, Israel’s strategy of vaccinating its population against Covid-19 earlier than other nations is beginning to show potentially promising results. Preliminary data released by various agencies offers a glimpse into how effectively it has been able to protect those vulnerable to the contagious virus by speeding up access to a vaccine.

Israel’s vaccination strategy explained

Israel began vaccinating its population on December 19 after procuring “hundreds of thousands” of vaccines for an undisclosed amount–reportedly a premium–from Pfizer and BioNTech. The government at the time had announced that “millions” more were to arrive in the country “in the near future”.

The country’s Ministry of Health, along with Teva Pharmaceuticals subsidiary S.L.A., was in charge of storing these vaccines in their required deep-freeze temperatures. The vaccines were provided to health maintenance organisations (HMOs) as well as vaccination sites “according to the rate of roll out”.

Israel’s priority for vaccinations were initially those aged 60 years and older and healthcare workers, but the country has over time expanded this coverage to include those aged 40 years and above as well as students between the ages of 16-18 years (including 12th grade pupils over 18 years old). According to the government, even pregnant women and women planning to get pregnant can also get the vaccine. The country aims to vaccinate a majority of its population in the first stage, barring children under 16 years old, recovered and current patients and those with a history of severe allergic reactions.

As of January 25, Israel has administered over 3.96 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to its population, according to its health minister Yuli Edelstein. This includes 1.26 million in second doses that the population is required to take around 21 days after the first shot.

What does the data show?

According to reports, the country’s health ministry has shared that only 63 of 428,000 Israelis had contracted Covid-19 a week after receiving their second dose. Before this, an analysis by Maccabi Healthcare Services (one of the country’s active HMOs) showed a “significant” decrease in infections among those aged 60 years and above. The HMO had collected these insights from 50,777 vaccinated people in this age group on the 23rd day of vaccination–two days after they had received their second dose. According to its latest real-time monitoring report of Covid-19 vaccinations, which is preliminary, the HMO observed a decrease of “more than 60%” in the number of new hospitalised patients.

Maccabi reportedly released follow up data more than a week after 128,600 people had received their second dose, which showed that only 20 had contracted the virus.

What are the caveats?

This data is preliminary in nature. In addition to this, there is little clarity on what factors were considered while analysing the data.

Another matter of potential concern is the rising number of cases around the world with new Covid-19 strains from countries like the UK and South Africa. As per a New York Times report, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have reported that their vaccines are still effective against these newer strains, but offer less protection against the South African variant.

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How is India’s vaccination programme progressing?

India began vaccinating healthcare workers on priority on January 16. So far, over 2 million healthcare workers across the country have received one of two vaccines–Covishield by Serum Institute of India and Covaxin by Bharat Biotech. Depending on the vaccine, the healthcare workers will be receiving their second dose in a span of 4-6 weeks after the first dose.

The government has procured around 16.5 million doses of vaccines for its vaccination target population, and will be procuring more over time.

In terms of newer strains, the country has been reporting a rising number of cases with the UK variant of the virus.

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