What the UK can learn from the speedy Israeli vaccine rollout

Analysis of data casts doubt on one-jab approach despite falling infection rates

A patient awaits a vaccine jab at a mass vaccination centre in Tel-Aviv
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Experts are picking over the findings of research into Israel’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout after Health Secretary Matt Hancock turned to his Israeli counterpart for tips from the country that is leading the immunisation race.

Hancock and Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein have spoken to “share best practice and to up the pace” of Britain’s rollout, The Sun reports. The Israeli jabs campaign is being held up as an example worldwide, with one in four members of the population now having received a first dose.

The UK’s vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain earlier this month that Downing Street had “learned the speed at which they vaccinate - about four minutes per patient”.

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“That’s the sort of target we want,” Zahawi said.

Israel is currently vaccinating around 1.44 people in every 100 each day, according to Oxford University tracking - the fastest vaccination rate in the world, followed by the United Arab Emirates on 1.11.

However, new research into Israel’s strategy of giving all members of the population the first jab before rolling out the second doses has cast some doubt over the levels of immunity being achieved.

Although initial data on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine led the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to conclude that the first dose delivered 89% protection from day ten after being administered, the Israeli study suggests that this protection may be as low as 33%.

Despite these concerns, however, the data coming out Israel has raised hopes that vaccinations can curb Covid case rates effectively.

Business Insider reports that although the country is “nowhere near Covid-19 free”, the “seven-day and three-day moving averages of new cases have declined” in line with the rollout of the vaccine.

That success hasn’t come cheap though.

The Israeli government struck a deal with Pfizer to not only pay a premium price but also to “exchange citizens’ data for ten million doses of the coronavirus vaccine”, reports Politico.

Officials initially said that Israel was paying the equivalent of £22 per dose - more than twice the amount paid by Belgium, according to a pricing list inadvertently tweeted by the European nation’s secretary of state.

However, an Israeli Health Ministry official, Yaron Niv, said in a separate interview with state broadcaster Kan that each dose had cost his country the equivalent of £34 per jab.

Another factor credited for Israel’s speedy vaccines rollout is the country’s mandatory public health system, in which all patient records are fed into a nationwide digital network.

“An operation of such speed and scale could not have happened in a private health care system,” an unnamed senior nurse at a hospital in Tel Aviv told Politico.

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