The first shipment of coronavirus vaccines could arrive in Israel as early as December, said the Health Ministry chief on Wednesday.
Israel last week signed a deal for vaccine purchase with UK-based pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, following a deal with U.S. company Pfizer a week earlier after it announced its vaccine is 90% effective. Israel also has an agreement with American biotech company Moderna that was signed back in June.
"The vaccines are slated to arrive during the first half of 2021, but maybe there will be a first batch in December," Health Ministry DG Prof. Hezi Levi said during a press briefing. He added that health officials are currently debating who will be the first group to receive the treatment, but "that all depends on which vaccines arrive and at what rate."
"We will only bring vaccines that have all been rigorously tested," he added. "I believe there will not be too many serious side effects, but we will make sure all the vaccines are inspected and given our approval."
Levi confirmed that out of some 60,000 coronavirus tests conducted Tuesday, about 1.4% came back positive and that over the past week 64 Israelis have succumbed to the disease.
The professor added that Israel’s virus reproduction rate currently stands at 1.06 — higher than the figure set by officials as a condition for further easing of lockdown restrictions.
Levi also said that the Health Ministry continues to map the nation's contagion status, with 15 communities currently designated as "red", indicating a high infection rate.
"This mapping will assist us in implementing the Traffic Light Model next week," he said.
According to the model, communities are given either a "green", "orange" or "red" designation, with each subject to certain travel and business restrictions.
Levi also said that health officials are keeping track of the coronavirus morbidity in the West Bank, following reports Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is mulling closing all crossings into Palestinian territories due to the infection surge.
He also warned that a planned reopening of malls and shopping centers could lead to a rise in infection. "This is why we are doing this carefully and not all at once, instead opting for a pilot consisting of 15 malls," he said.
In the meantime, Ben Gurion Univerity's Prof. Dov Schwartz, an advisor to the ministerial coronavirus cabinet, warned Wednesday that Israel is headed to a third lockdown.
"We are heading in a direction where we cannot control the spread, there will be a lockdown," he said. "Everyone is trying to reopen their industry for their own benefits - the merchants, event hall owners and even the education minister. When all these parts come together - we will have an uncontrollable outbreak and that will be the prime minister's problem."