The Health Ministry has informed Israel’s healthcare providers it is considering opening vaccinations up to the entire adult public in the coming days, Channel 12 News reported Tuesday night.
The report said a decision will be made Wednesday, with health officials assessing the move will likely go forward immediately, due to a general slowdown in public participation in the inoculation drive.
Meanwhile the ministry is also looking to vaccinate some of those designated as having recovered from COVID-19 — a group that has so far not been prioritized.
The report said people whose illness was under question — who had been asymptomatic, had had a borderline positive result or were otherwise not clearly sick with the virus — will be able to get shots as well.
The national vaccine drive has slowed down in recent days, with healthcare providers finding it increasingly difficult to get people to come to be vaccinated, and some locations with excess doses inviting any and all who want to get the shots to come in. At least one provider was forced to throw away expired doses, according to Monday reports.
Channel 12 reported Tuesday that health maintenance organizations are also witnessing a troubling phenomenon of people making appointments for vaccination and failing to show up.
It also said a growing percentage of people appears to be failing to show up for their second — and vital — dose of the vaccine: A document from the Leumit HMO showed no-shows to have risen to 6.6% Monday, up from 2.2% two weeks ago.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the country is aiming to vaccinate 90% of those over the age of 50 against COVID-19 within two weeks, as part of its race to offset fast-spreading mutations of the coronavirus.
With the cabinet set to meet Wednesday to decide on the next steps to combat the coronavirus pandemic, the Health Ministry is concerned that an end to elements of the lockdown on Friday will lead to a weekend of family and social gatherings at homes and a subsequent surge in cases, Channel 12 reported.
Netanyahu and health officials are reported to want to extend the ongoing lockdown until the beginning of next week, saying it would enable hundreds of thousands more to be vaccinated against the virus before some restrictions are eased. His coalition partners in Blue and White are said to be seeking some closure restrictions to be removed as early as Friday, among them the limit on traveling over a kilometer from one’s home.
Netanyahu on Tuesday noted that 77% of those over 50 have already received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine that Israel is using in its mass inoculation drive, and said if it manages to fully inoculate that population, “then we are on our way to victory over the coronavirus.”
He noted that 97% of COVID deaths and 93% of serious cases are among those over 50.
Speaking more generally, Netanyahu urged all Israelis to get vaccinated.
“This is important for all of us, because it allows us to open the economy gradually and, above all else, to save lives,” he said.
Netanyahu maintained that the closure will be gradually lifted next week, insisting he wanted to extend the strict lockdown, now in its fourth week and set to end Friday, until after the weekend.
Extending the lockdown by another three days would mean an additional 200,000 people could be vaccinated, including some 120,000 aged 50 or above, Netanyahu said.
He also responded to calls by coalition partners in the Blue and White party to ease some limitations on Friday, dismissing it as “populism.”
Edelstein, who has reportedly been lobbying Netanyahu to extend the lockdown, warned that if it is lifted as planned on Friday, there would likely be a surge in social activity, with friends and families gathering over the weekend, and many opened commercial sites would “draw millions of people.”
“We need to prevent that,” he said and warned that if restrictions are rolled back before the weekend the day would forever be known as “Black Friday,” due to the consequences of virus spread.
Blue and White, in response, said the press conference was an attempt to “cover up the failure of the lockdown.”
“If we don’t present an exit strategy there will be no public faith,” the party said and insisted that its approach is based on responsible principles.
Blue and White announced that it would back maintaining a strict lockdown on cities with the highest rates of infection, but would also recommend that in other areas some restrictions be lifted. These include a prohibition on traveling further than 1 kilometer (0.625 miles) from home other than for essential needs, a ban on the operation of businesses that meet with clients one at a time, a ban on restaurants offering in-person takeout (restaurants are currently only allowed to sell food via delivery), and a ban on bed-and-breakfasts hosting nuclear families.
The party said it would back continuing general prohibitions limiting gatherings to just five people indoors and ten outdoors.
The fourth week of lockdown was added on Sunday, with Blue and White only agreeing to the measure on condition that enforcement be increased to ensure the closure is effective, and on the passing of a law doubling fines for violators. The party, led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, had been reluctant to continue lockdown measures that have shuttered all but essential businesses and the entire education system, except for special education institutes.
Some easing of the education system is expected to be approved by ministers for next week.
Despite over three weeks of lockdown and a world-leading vaccination program that has already given at least the first of the two-dose vaccine to over a third of its population, Israel has seen daily virus caseloads remain high; the number of seriously ill patients stuck at over a thousand, burdening hospitals; and the positive test rate barely dipping.
Health Ministry figures released Tuesday showed there were 8,281 “cases” confirmed the day before, with the positive test rate at 9.2%.
Since the start of the outbreak last year, 659,978 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Israel and 4,887 have died of COVID-19. There are 72,662 active “cases”, including 1,111 patients in serious condition, of whom 413 are considered critical.
The ministry data showed that 3,227,511 people have already had the first dose of the vaccine, including 1,852,075 who have also had the second shot.