One million people in Israel receive first dose of COVID vaccine

The country leads the world in the vaccination campaign, which began on 19 December
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AFP/JACK GUEZ  -   Hospital staff members in Israel

One million people in Israel have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, although the Health Department announced this week a slowdown in the campaign to ensure the second dose, when immunity is complete.

"We are moving very fast to vaccinate the entire population" of nine million people, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today, choosing the Arab-majority population Um al Fahm (northern Israel) to celebrate this figure.

Israel leads the world in the vaccination campaign, which began on 19 December. However, the current pace would leave the country without supplies on 10 January and the Ministry of Health anticipated a suspension of the first dose in order to ensure the second dose needed by those already inoculated to complete the process.

A further three million doses of Pfizer will arrive this month, and in March and April Israel will receive a similar number of doses, bringing the total to ten million, enough to vaccinate five million residents, two per person.

The vaccination campaign in Israel's Arab towns has been slower than in the rest of the country and today Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein went to the Um al Fahm centre, where 66-year-old resident Yabarin Mohamad was the one millionth person to be inoculated in the country.

"It is important to me that the Arab population be vaccinated quickly. It is because it saves lives and only then can we return to normal life," said Netanyahu.

"(Israel) will be the first country in the world to be vaccinated. This is a great achievement. In a few months, we will be able to say 'Goodbye' to the coronavirus," said the head of the Health Department in Spanish, "and return to normal life," he predicted.

"We are all in this together. There is no difference between Jews and Arabs, religious and lay people. As long as we don't succeed in reaching large numbers of people who have been vaccinated, we can't go to the places that are so important to all of us," Edelstein argued.

The country is currently in a third national confinement and yesterday exceeded 5,800 infections per day, hoping that the vaccination campaign will end not only the third wave but also the pandemic.

Health expects the vaccination campaign to be reflected in morbidity data in about a month and a half. More than 678 patients are currently in serious condition, 178 of them on respirators, and 3,338 people have died since March.