Israel was set to resume an internationally lauded campaign to vaccinate its population against coronavirus on Sunday, with the delivery of a new shipment of inoculations from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
An El Al flight from Belgium was to touch down at Ben-Gurion Airport at 4pm carrying 700,000 doses of the vaccine, which Pfizer says is up to 95% effective against COVID-19.
Health maintenance organizations across the country have already begun administering the vaccine to those who already have received the first shot in the two-stage process, exactly three weeks after Israel launched its vaccination drive on December 20.
More than 1.8 million members of the Israeli public have already received their first jab of the vaccine, but a third wave of the deadly pandemic has already led to thousands of daily cases of the disease and 300 deaths since January 1.
The country is currently in its third stringent lockdown aimed at stemming the spread of the virus.
According to the Oxford University-run Our World in Data website, Israel had vaccinated 19.55% of its 9.29 million population by January 7, making it the global leader in coronavirus inoculations per capita.
The Health Ministry last week expressed concern over a potential lack of vaccines slowing the campaign, saying that doses would first go to those who had already received the first jab.
A proposal to combine the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer was met with criticism from both companies and Israeli health experts, who warned that there was no proof that this would be as effective.
On Thursday, a first limited shipment of the Moderna vaccine arrived in Israel from Germany, with doses to fully vaccinate just 50,000 people.
The vaccine was earmarked for members of at-risk groups who are confined to their homes, due to it being easier to transport than the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored in special containers at -70°C.
Moderna’s chief medical officer Dr. Tal Zaks told Ynet on Wednesday that he is “very proud as an Israeli that Israel is one of the first countries in the world to mobilize for the early purchase of all vaccines, both ours and Pfizer’s, and is at the forefront today in terms of the ability to vaccinate its citizens.”
Under the terms of an agreement reached by the government and Pfizer, more than 10 million doses of the vaccine were expected to arrive in Israel by the end of March.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the first person in Israel to receive the Pfizer vaccine in a televised event aimed at reassuring the public of its safety, said last week that all members of the public above the age of 16 could be vaccinated within three months, making Israel the first country to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic.
“The agreement that I have achieved with Pfizer allows us to immunize everyone in Israel over the age of 16 by the end of March - and even before, possibly,” Netanyahu said in a live address on January 7.
“We will inoculate the entire relevant population and anyone who wants will be able to get the vaccine,” he said.
i24NEWS contributed to this report