With the recent approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca Oxford vaccines, the race is on for countries around the world to inoculate their populations.
By far the fastest in this regard is Israel, whose health agencies started vaccinating people on December 19 and are now administering around 150,000 jabs a day.
It’s expected that two million of the country’s nine million population will have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of January, and health workers and the over 60s will be covered first.
The speed at which Israel has administered vaccines has astonished the international community, with calls for other governments to learn from its approach. So how has Israel achieved this milestone? And how easy is it to emulate?
The first thing to say is that some of Israel’s success comes down to geographical advantages, which – for obvious reasons – cannot be copied by everyone. Its relatively small size gives it a headstart in getting a vaccine out against countries with more area and people to reach.
That’s not to say, however, that there aren’t some important steps that can be replicated. One big factor behind Israel’s success is that simply, like the UK, it was quick to get vaccine orders in, albeit originally signing up for Moderna and AstraZeneca’s, and willing to invest a lot in something that was initially a big gamble.
The government was flexible when it turned out that Pfizer would bring its vaccine to market first. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, helped to negotiate with Pfizer’s chief executive, and the government agreed “to pay a much higher price to ensure early shipments of four million doses”, according to reports.
Once the orders were signed off, the government flew the vaccines in from Pfizer’s hub in Belgium back to Israel, where the army then moved it into refrigerated lorries to local centralised hubs, from which vaccines could be given out. As ConservativeHome has written about before, clearly decentralised approaches have worked well in managing the pandemic.
Part of Israel’s ability to administer the vaccine quickly comes down to the set up of its healthcare system, which is divided into four public health maintenance organisations (HMO). Although they are all free, they compete with each other for funding, and are thus constantly having to think about how to better their approach – which seems to have fed into the delivery of the vaccines.
So far the HMOs have set up vaccination centres in stadiums, parking lots, school playgrounds and even through a mobile clinic that drives to locations. The government has also approved a drive-in-clinic.
The healthcare system is also known for its digital capacities. Those who need the vaccine are alerted through text and voice messages, and they also have the opportunity to contact their HMO if they have forgotten their appointment for a new one.
Through this technology, the Israeli government has been able to reward people for getting their Coronavirus vaccine by way of a “green passport” via a phone app once they’ve had it. This will mean they don’t have to be isolated if they’ve been exposed to a person with the virus, or if they return from abroad.
Lastly, Netanyahu has gone to huge efforts to publicise vaccinations, visiting centres almost every day with TV crews. While it’s been said that some of this is to bolster his chances for the upcoming election, it’s clearly had an effect on public confidence and no doubt it will give other governments ideas for how to broadcast that the vaccine is safe.
Of course, some will question parts of this system – the idea of “freedom passports” have caused concern among civil liberty campaigners in the UK, and none of Israel’s vaccine efforts have stopped its hospitals being under immense pressure. Infections have surged as a third wave hits the country, so the world is now watching as to how quickly it works.
But there are still lessons that others can take from Israel’s programme, namely that it has been creative, above all else, in getting the vaccine out. This is perhaps the most important tip of all for UK government, which has the vaccine numbers (albeit with some manufacturing hiccups), but now needs to be as bold as possible in delivery and cutting the red tape.
It should be noted, however, that Israel is exceptional in its vaccine performance, and that the UK is at a very good starting point, with 944,539 vaccinated (France, for comparison, had done 351 on December 31). Even so, learning from others has been a vital part of this pandemic.