A senior health official said Friday that the perception that young people in Israel were not going to get vaccinated was wrong and that in the two weeks since they have been offered shots, some 40% of those aged 16-39 have received their first dose.
“There was a lot of buzz in the media that the youth don’t want to be vaccinated. I’m pleased to say it is not true,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s public health department, told Channel 12 news.
Alroy-Preis expressed cautious optimism that Israel would soon be able to reopen, noting the positive effects of the vaccine, but warned Israelis not to let their guard down.
She also shot down a Channel 12 report that Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was planning to hold a “mass spectacle,” like a concert or soccer game, only attended by the vaccinated in order to entice holdouts to get their shots.
“I have to say there will not be tens of thousands in a concert,” Alroy-Preis said, adding that Israel was still seeing 6,000 new positive tests a day on average with a 7% positive rate.
“We still need to be careful, we are in a critical stage and even when you have a ‘green pass’ it does not mean there is no coronavirus,” she said referring to the government plan to open up a range of public events to those holding a vaccination certificate.
The issue of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism is a growing concern as Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign has slowed in recent weeks.
Over 3,780,710 Israelis have received the first dose of vaccine and 2,415,692 have received both doses — nearly a quarter of the entire population.
While there won’t be mass concerts at first, Israel is definitely looking at using a green passport system of incentives and will begin opening up on February 23, officials said.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said that a range of things like gyms, hotels and retails stores will be opening for pass holders then, followed by a much larger opening two weeks later that would include “halls, events, concerts and sports,” if there were no major outbreaks.
Speaking to Channel 13, Kisch also urged the public to get vaccinated now, warning they would only get their green pass after a second shot.
“Those who don’t vaccinate now will be very sorry when in a month we open the soccer, event halls and concerts and they will have to stand in lines for vaccines,” he said.
Channel 13 also reported that Economics Minister Amir Peretz was considering giving the vaccinated a “green card” that would include special discounts and offers, but the idea still needed approval from the Treasury.
The green pass will possibly include those who have a negative coronavirus test result from within the previous 48-72 hours, though that issue, and the legal ramifications of limiting access to certain people to some activities, is still being examined.
Officials have repeatedly said that the vaccine is working as expected. Kisch said Health Ministry data expected to be released next week showed that the 95% success rate achieved by Pfizer/BioNTech in their stage-three trials was now being replicated in the field, this time “among millions of people.”
This was foreshadowed by data released Thursday by one Israeli healthcare provider, Maccabi Healthcare Services, announcing that of some half a million given both doses of the Pfizer vaccine, only 544 people — or 0.104% — had subsequently been diagnosed with the coronavirus. There have been only four severe cases, and no people have died.
That means the effectiveness rate stands at 93 percent, Maccabi said, after comparing its immunized members to a “diverse” control group of unvaccinated members.
Full protection for people who have been vaccinated is believed to kick in a week after the second shot, so Maccabi’s data covers all those of its members who are seven or more days after receiving that second dose.
Maccabi is one of four HMOs distributing the vaccines in Israel.
With the vaccine so successful, Israel has seen the number of Israelis under the age of 60 who were newly hospitalized for COVID-19 surpassed the number of new hospitalizations among those 60 and up.
As of February 6, the most recent day the data was available by age group, 90% of Israelis over 60 had received their first vaccine dose, and 80% had received their second dose.
Alarmingly, the number of hospitalizations for younger Israelis appears to be trending upward since mid-December, despite the vaccination campaign, which began December 19, and the nationwide lockdown, which started on January 8.
Also, the share of new cases among children and teenagers has been growing since late January, despite schools being closed.
Officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have blamed more contagious variants for the third-wave outbreak’s seeming imperviousness to the lockdown and vaccination campaign.
The vaccination rate has been leveling off in recent days, prompting officials to push for more younger Israelis to get the shots and to crack down on anti-vaccine commentary on social media.
The number of seriously ill patients continued a steady decline, reaching 1,002 on Thursday, the lowest number in weeks. There were also just 54 new seriously ill patients on Thursday, half the amount from the day before.
There were 4,931 new “cases” on Thursday, bringing the total number to 718,746 with 61,920 being active. Of the 75,587 tests carried out on Thursday, 6.7 percent of them came back positive. Six more Israelis died on Thursday, 23 fewer than the previous day, bringing the total death count to 5,304.