Coronavirus knows no borders, as has become all too clear, and countries around the world are facing the same challenges to public health and their economies. From the outset of the pandemic, Israel emerged as a leading nation in the global fight against coronavirus, learning from others’ experiences and sharing its own with the world. It made the tough choice early on – closing borders and schools, shuttering businesses, limiting all non-essential activities.
Israel sustained the burst of innovation surrounding the global pandemic, including COVID-centric start-ups, in addition to drive-through testing centers, telemedicine, and vaccine research. Israel’s success in responding to the pandemic has continued into 2021. The country now boasts the highest per capita vaccination rate of any country globally, outpacing all others by far.
Israel began its vaccination drive in late December, 2020, and within just the first two days of the campaign, nearly 30,000 Israelis were already given their first dose. Now, a month later, more than 30 percent have already received the vaccination, including some 75 percent of citizens over 60. My parents received their second vaccine two weeks ago Sunday.
Presently, the country is on track to vaccinate all citizens over the age of 16 by the end of March. Additionally, Israel is in the process of administering vaccinations to all foreign diplomats within the country.
This speedy and ambitious target has been made possible through a new deal that Israel inked with pharmaceutical companies in early January. Our Consulate in Boston was instrumental in facilitating the Moderna deal with Israel. Dubbed ‘Operation Back to Life,’ Israel is set to receive ongoing shipments of the vaccine over the coming months, which will enable the country to reach its bold target and, we hope, become one of the first countries in the world to exit from the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, by sharing its statistical data with Pfizer and the world, Israel will also play a key role in demonstrating the vaccine’s efficacy and developing global strategies to overcome the pandemic. One week after the second Pfizer vaccine shot, just 20 of 128,000 Israelis got COVID, representing .015 percent. Meaning, the efficiency rate of the vaccine is 95 perecent, as predicted by clinical trials.
Israel’s small population of some 9.5 million people and its highly efficient public health system mean that the country will play an essential role for pharmaceutical companies. Our vaccination campaign’s success and experience will be used to provide the critical information that pharmaceutical companies need to make the vaccine more effective for other countries. By being the first country in the world to vaccinate its entire population with the novel vaccine, Israel will serve as the world’s critical experimental subject.
Israel’s universal healthcare system is globally recognized for its efficiency and effectiveness. Israel has developed a sophisticated and high-quality individual patient care level, and all Israeli citizens and permanent residents are guaranteed healthcare under the country’s national health insurance law. All Israelis can choose from four comprehensive not-for-profit health plans (public option) that provide a standardized basket of medical services. Each provider must accept all residents regardless of age or state of health. Combined, there are thousands of clinics spread across the country, ensuring that every local community is served. Moreover, its national healthcare services enjoy a uniquely advanced digitization level, which will make Israel’s data particularly important to pharmaceutical companies. Israel’s extensive national network of medical services lies within the ministry of health’s purview.
This comprehensive system of doctors, nurses, and medics rapidly mobilized in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and is now working towards vaccinating the entire country within a matter of months. Israel’s constant and daily battle with existential threats meant that it was exceptionally well-placed to handle an emergency of the magnitude that COVID-19 brought on. The entirety of Israel’s national systems thus coalesced around the crisis. The prime minister arranged multiple conversations with Pfizer’s chief executive officer to secure a steady supply of vaccinations. Magen David Adom – Israel’s equivalent to the Red Cross – continues to be at the forefront of the pandemic, having now been tasked with vaccinating the residents and employees of nursing homes and assisted living centers across the country. The Israel Defense Forces similarly mobilized, assisting in administering quarantine hotels and supplying food to families in lockdown at the height of the pandemic. The IDF is now dedicating its paramedic and military reserves to the current vaccination push. Thus, Israel holds the world record for its vaccination rate and will be able to rapidly compete its inoculation drive.
In addition to its own vaccination campaign, as per international agreements, the Palestinian Authority is fully responsible for providing healthcare of its own population. Israel has been informed that the Palestinian Authority intends to purchase vaccines for their people via Russia, and Israel will facilitate that effort, assisting the Palestinian Authority.
With these extraordinary efforts, Israel hopes that on this year’s Passover seder night, all of the generations will be able to gather together around the table once again to celebrate more than the emancipation from Egypt but also the exodus from COVID-19.
Meron Reuben is the Consul General of Israel to New England.