Behind the scenes

How Israel is winning the Covid-19 vaccine race

More than 12% of population have already had jabs - but Palestinians in occupied territories excluded from rollout

As countries worldwide scramble to secure doses of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines, Israel has taken a commanding lead in the race to protect its population from Covid-19.

More than a million Israelis have already been inoculated - a vaccination rate of 12.59 per 100 people, according to latest data from the University of Oxford. The Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain is in second place with 3.57, with the UK in third on 1.39.

Israel began its vaccine rollout on 19 December and is “delivering jabs to about 150,000 people a day, with priority given to the over-60s, health workers and people who are clinically vulnerable”, the BBC reports.

Like their UK counterparts, the Israeli government secured a sizeable supply of the Pfizer vaccine after opening negotiations with the US-based pharmaceutical giant early in the pandemic. But the vaccination push in the Middle Eastern nation has also been aided by laws stipulating that “all Israelis must register with a recognised health care provider”, the broadcaster adds.

By 1 January, more than 10% of the population had received a Covid jab, with the “heavily digitised, community-based health system” and “centralised government” proving to be key assets in the mass vaccination campaign, says The New York Times.

The country’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the first Israeli to receive the vaccine, in an effort to convince the public of its safety. 

During a visit last week to a vaccination centre in the town of Tira, in central Israel, he said: “We brought millions of vaccines here, more than any other country in the world relative to its population. We brought them to everyone: Jews and Arabs, religious and secular. Come and be vaccinated.”

However, his government has come under fire from human rights groups for leaving Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza to “watch and wait” as vaccines “are only distributed to Jewish settlers” in the disputed territories, The Guardian reports.

“The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which maintains limited self-rule in the territories, is rushing to get vaccines,” the paper adds. But Ali Abed Rabbo, director-general of the Palestinian health ministry, has estimated that the first vaccines will not arrive in the West Bank and Gaza Strip until February.

Israeli rights group Gisha told The Guardian that the bid by Palestinian authorities to procure their own supply of vaccines “does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians under occupation”.

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