While the U.S. technically launched its mass COVID-19 vaccination program just days before Israel initiated its vaccine roll-out, Dec. 20, 2020, the Jewish state achieved a higher rate of injected vaccines much quicker. And as the coronavirus pandemic has continued to sicken, hospitalize and kill people all over the world, the Israeli experience has been watched by international experts as the harbinger of what may be coming.
In the first few weeks of its vaccination program, per capita, Israel beat every other country in the number of Israelis vaccinated. As of Jan. 9, 2021, about two million Israelis had been vaccinated against COVID-19, amounting to some 16 percent of its population. As of early February, at least 90 percent of Israelis over the age of 60 had received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. By late February, at least 4.8 million Israelis received at least one dose. The country’s population is about 9.3 million.
Early on, Israel purchased millions of Pfizer vaccines, reportedly in return for the pharmaceutical company to study its experience with the vaccine. Evidence quickly showed that the Pfizer vaccine worked to curb transmission of the virus, including asymptomatic infections and deaths.
Israel’s successful vaccination program was due to its universal healthcare system, according to Dr. Harry Heiman, clinical associate professor in the Department of Health Policy & Behavioral Sciences in the School of Public Health at Georgia State University.
According to Israel’s 1995 National Health Insurance Law, 100 percent of the country’s population is entitled to comprehensive health coverage, ensuring that no citizen could be denied coverage on the basis of lack of funds. Each person chooses to become a member of one of four kupat cholim, or sick funds. In American terms, these are government funded health maintenance organizations, or HMOs.
Israel was also among the first countries to initiate the third shot, or booster shot, as studies indicated a waning of effectiveness of the first two vaccines.
As recently as mid-December, U.S. epidemiologists were quoting an Israeli study that indicated that two Pfizer shots do not neutralize the new variant, Omicron, but that the booster is effective. The Sheba Medical Center study was expected to appear in the New England Journal of Medicine, after peer review.
At press time, however, Israel is reporting a lagging vaccination rate among children.
Israel has reported more than 8,200 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
- Year in Review
- Jan Jaben-Eilon
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- COVID Vaccine
- coronavirus-related deaths
- COVID-19 vaccination program
- United States
- Pfizer vaccine
- Dr. Harry Heiman
- Sheba Medical Center
- New England Journal of Medicine
- universal healthcare system
- National Health Insurance Law