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Let’s hope this lockdown is Israel’s last

Israel’s health system and the government’s unprecedented achievement in importing a large number of vaccines in record time mean the country could be the first to achieve herd immunity.

A Clalit HMO COVID-19 vaccination center in Jerusalem on Dec. 23, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
A Clalit HMO COVID-19 vaccination center in Jerusalem on Dec. 23, 2020. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Professor Arnon Ofek
Arnon Ofek

One of the lessons officials tasked with managing Israel’s anti-coronavirus campaign have come to learn is that in a situation the likes of which Israel faces today, where 4,000 new infections are confirmed every day and the virus’s rate of reproduction is high, immediate steps must be taken to stop the increase in the number of serious cases.

The imposition of a lockdown deals a severe blow to the economy and the livelihood of Israel’s citizens and exacerbates issues such as extreme loneliness among the elderly. Nevertheless, imposing a lockdown at a relatively early stage—and before we reach 8,000 new infections a day and more than 800 patients in serious condition as we did in the second wave—increases the likelihood that this lockdown will be a relatively short one, limiting its damage as much as possible.

Sweden, which adopted a lenient policy and avoided a lockdown, has been forced to issue stricter coronavirus guidelines to contend with a spike in serious cases and death rates double that of neighboring countries over the holiday season. The country’s king and prime minister have both admitted the government’s policy for thwarting the spread of the virus has failed.

The upside of entering a third lockdown is that this time, we can hope it will be the last.

The government has succeeded in bringing a large number of vaccines to Israel in record time. This is an unprecedented achievement that has made Israel one of the first countries in the world to embark on a vaccination campaign.

Israel’s professional public health system, which relies on health-care providers and hospitals, enlisted in the effort and by the first week had vaccinated over a quarter-million Israelis.

In mainland Europe, the situation is completely different. Many countries—among them Belgium, where the factory manufacturing Pfizer’s vaccines is located—have yet to begin to vaccinate their citizens.

Israel, on the other hand, leads the world in the number of vaccines administered per 100 people. We must continue this trend so that in another three months, the high-risk population is vaccinated at the same time as we vaccinate the general population. If we continue at this rate, Israel could be the first country to achieve herd immunity.

This week, the number of vaccination centers will grow, and hospitals will assist in the vaccination of the elderly and the chronically ill.

Out of a sense of national responsibility and as part of the national effort to vaccinate the general population, the Sheba Medical Center has begun to vaccinate without appointments Holocaust survivors, cancer patients and those suffering from blood disorders in a special compound. An additional vaccination center that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week has also been established at the medical center.

I do not doubt that the efforts of Israel’s hospitals and health-care providers in the vaccination campaign will soon bear fruit. Moreover, because our health system is computerized, the data being collected will help the entire world in its vaccination campaign and make Israel a model for what can be achieved.

Now the government’s greatest challenge is to bring the necessary vaccine doses to Israel. On behalf of the medical teams, I can promise the people of Israel that we will do everything in our power to make this third lockdown the last.

Professor Arnon Ofek serves as deputy director of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer and is a member of the team that advises Israel’s national coronavirus project coordinator.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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