The author of this piece is His Excellency Ophir Kariv, the Ambassador of Israel to Ireland.
Over the past year, it has become clear that Covid-19 knows no borders and countries, the world over, are all facing the same challenges to public health and their economies. From the outset of the pandemic, Israel emerged as a leading nation in the global fight against coronavirus, learning from the experiences of others and sharing its own with the world. It made the tough choices early on – closing borders and schools, shuttering businesses, and limiting all non-essential activities – and sustained a burst of innovation surrounding the pandemic that included start-ups and drive-through testing centres through to telemedicine and vaccine research. Israel’s success in responding to the pandemic has continued into 2021, and the country now boasts the highest per capita vaccination rate of any country in the world, outpacing all others by far.
Israel began its vaccination drive in late December 2020, and within just the first two days of the campaign, nearly 30,000 Israelis were already given their first dose. Now, just a few weeks later, more than two million Israelis have received their first vaccination shot, and the country is on track to vaccinate all citizens over the age of 16 by the end of March.
This speedy and ambitious target has been made possible through a new deal that Israel made with pharmaceutical companies in early January. Dubbed ‘Operation Back to Life’, Israel is set to receive ongoing shipments of the vaccine over the coming months, which will enable the country to reach its bold target and become one of the first countries in the world to exit from the coronavirus crisis. Moreover, by sharing its statistical data with Pfizer and the world, Israel will also play a key role in demonstrating the efficacy of the vaccine and developing global strategies to overcome the pandemic.
In fact, Israel’s small population of some nine million and its highly efficient public health system mean that the country is going to play an essential role for pharmaceutical companies. The success and experience of our vaccination campaign will be used to provide the critical information that pharmaceutical companies need in order to make the vaccine even more effective for other countries. By being the first country in the world to vaccinate its entire population with the novel vaccine, Israel will serve as the world’s key experimental subject.
Israel’s universal healthcare system is globally recognized for its efficiency and effectiveness. Israel has developed a sophisticated and high-quality level of individual patient care, and all Israeli citizens and permanent residents are guaranteed healthcare under the country’s National Health Insurance Law. All Israelis can choose from four comprehensive not-for-profit health plans that provide a standardized basket of medical services, and each provider must accept all residents regardless of age or state of health. Combined, there are thousands of clinics spread across the country, ensuring that each and every local community is served. Moreover, its national healthcare services enjoy a uniquely advanced level of digitization, which will make Israel’s data particularly important to pharmaceutical companies. Israel’s extensive national network of medical services lies within the Ministry of Health’s purview.
It was this comprehensive system of doctors, nurses, and medics that rapidly mobilized in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and which is now working towards vaccinating the entire country within a matter of months. In fact, Israel’s constant and daily battle with existential threats meant that it was especially well-placed to handle an emergency of the magnitude that coronavirus brought on. The entirety of Israel’s national systems thus coalesced around the crisis. The Prime Minister arranged multiple conversations with Pfizer’s CEO to secure a steady supply of vaccinations. Magen David Adom – Israel’s national emergency response service – continues to be at the forefront of the pandemic, having now been tasked with the responsibility of vaccinating the residents and employees of nursing homes and assisted-living centres across the country. The IDF similarly mobilized, assisting in administrating quarantine hotels and supplying food to families in lockdown at the height of the pandemic, and now dedicating its own paramedics and military reserves to the current vaccination push. It is because of these factors combined that Israel holds the world record for its vaccination rate and will be able to rapidly complete its inoculation drive.
Throughout the pandemic, Israel has done its utmost to cooperate with the Palestinian Authority to combat Covid-19. Since March, tremendous efforts have been made by Israel to assist the Palestinians with PPE supplies, facilitating the supply of thousands of donated test kits, training Palestinian medical staff and other aid activities. This cooperation has been lauded as exemplary by UN officials. This has happened despite the sometimes cynical maneuvering of the Palestinian Authority, who chose in the midst of the pandemic to halt civil cooperation with Israel, which could deprive their citizens of the opportunity to seek medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. However, they did make an exception for one of their own politicians, the late Saeb Erekat, who received treatment for Covid-19 in an Israeli hospital.
Despite Israel’s best efforts to cooperate with the Palestinians and our impressive achievements in vaccination to date, there are still those who seek to weaponise the pandemic by spreading false allegations about the vaccination programme for Palestinians. Those who spread such allegations conveniently ignore the fact that as per the Oslo Accords and other treaties between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), civic responsibilities – including the provision of health services – is exclusively under the remit of the PA. They are responsible for sourcing the vaccine supply for their population and they have been negotiating with both suppliers and international organisations on this. Israel will of course do whatever it can to facilitate the supply. However, we would respectfully suggest that those who have concerns about the vaccination programme for Palestinians should look to the Palestinian leadership and urge them to act in the best interests of their own people, rather than indulging in cynical political posturing.
Despite the significant hardship that we have all experienced in 2020, it is our sincere hope that, on this year’s Passover Seder night, grandparents, parents, children, and grandchildren will be able to gather side-by-side around the table to share a meal, amidst laughter and joy, and give thanks that, through the extraordinary efforts of those who developed and administered the vaccination programme, we have overcome the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.