Israel expanded its COVID-19 vaccination campaign Thursday morning to include all citizens aged 16 and over.
So far, the Jewish state has only allowed Israelis over the age of 35 to get the vaccine, later adding high school students between the ages of 16–18 to enable them to attend their matriculation exams later in the year.
Some healthcare providers have previously allowed some people under the age of 35 to receive the vaccine, mainly due to fear of discarding unused vaccine doses.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein took to Twitter to urge all citizens to go and get vaccinated.
"Come on down, this is the only way we can beat coronavirus — together", Edelstein wrote. "Starting this morning, anyone over the age of 16 can get vaccinated. Use this opportunity, almost no other country in the world has it."
Clalit Health Services CEO Ehud Davidson congratulated on the expansion of the country's inoculation campaign and joined Edelstein's call.
"The vaccine is our most efficient tool in dealing with the pandemic," Davidson said. "We are operating over 170 vaccination centers across the country. Clalit teams, who lead the vaccination campaign with much success and have already vaccinated over 1,650,000 patients are waiting for you — come get vaccinated."
Health Ministry Director-General instructed the country's healthcare providers to allow vaccinating citizens between the ages of 18–35 but at the same time, ordered to concentrate efforts on the over-50 age group and housebound citizens.
Israel has already vaccinated 3.3 million of its citizens with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine since the country launched its vaccination campaign in December, and 1.9 million of them have also been given the second booster shot — with some 107,000 of them being inoculated on Wednesday alone.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel will begin gradually lifting lockdown restrictions next week while urging citizens to get vaccinated against COVID-19 as the more infectious British variant of the disease spreads nationwide.
"We are in the midst of a race between the vaccination campaign and the [COVID-19] variant," Netanyahu told a press conference. "The vaccination campaign is our key to exiting the pandemic."
The premier also said that 97% of the country's COVID-19 victims and 93% of serious cases were among those aged 50 and over.
"If we take control of the disease in these age groups, and manage to vaccinate all over 50s, we will be on the path to victory over coronavirus, leaving any surprises like new variants. That is why I am setting a national goal to vaccinate 90% of those aged 50 and over in the next two weeks. It will allow us to gradually open the economy and save lives."
Meanwhile, the government is scheduled to meet later on Thursday to discuss extending the nationwide lockdown and an exit strategy.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Health Minister Edelstein will demand extending the lockdown's travel restrictions until Sunday and gradually opening the education system afterward.
Blue & White will demand lifting restrictions starting Friday morning.