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Coronavirus: Israel marshals supplies in dash for full vaccination of at-risk groups

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Israel is carefully husbanding supplies as it races to vaccinate all vulnerable citizens by late January and push for an early exit from the COVID-19 pandemic, officials said on Thursday.

Authorities started vaccinations on Dec. 19, and are now giving more than 150,000 shots a day. Their top priority are the quarter of Israel's 9 million people who are over 60, suffer from risky medical conditions or are health workers.

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The Health Ministry is watching supplies closely, officials said. That means pushing back against public expectations that the campaign might soon be opened up to all adults or the at-risk criteria expanded to teachers and other groups.

The administering of first doses will be mostly suspended between Jan. 10 and Jan. 31, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Ynet TV, to ensure that those who already got them can follow up with scheduled booster shots.

His ministry's director-general, Hezi Levy, told Kan radio that come February there may be a limited widening of the vaccination drive, perhaps with the age threshold lowered to 50.

A number of citizens outside the vulnerable cohorts have already managed to get vaccinated, witnesses and officials at Israel's main health providers say - often as clinic "walk-ins" who secured surplus injections that would otherwise have had to be thrown away at the end of the day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing elections in March, said on Sunday that the vaccination programme could allow the country to emerge from the pandemic as early as February.

One Health Ministry official, Yaron Niv, said in a separate Kan interview that each dose cost Israel $62. He did not elaborate. Israel is now using the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, and says it expects to receive Moderna Inc.'s by March.

The European Union agreed to pay 15.50 euros per dose for the Pfizer/BioNTech shot.

Israel has safely subdivided the frozen Pfizer vaccine trays so that smaller batches can be thawed and thriftily deployed to remote parts of the country, Edelstein said.

Some nurses have further reduced waste by extracting six, rather than the advertised five, usable doses from each Pfizer vial, he added.

Israel is vaccinating Palestinians in East Jerusalem. In the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the first shipments of vaccines are expected in two weeks, Palestinian officials said, without providing details on their number or manufacturer.

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