Opinions

Life in Lockdown: Replicating the Israeli Approach to COVID-19 and Vaccination

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Issue 9, Volume 111

By Maya Dunayer 

When I arrived at the Israeli airport in December of 2020, I was surprised by how orderly and efficient the COVID-19 precautions were. The airport officers asked me a series of questions regarding my recent exposure to COVID-19, including where I would be staying for the mandatory two weeks of quarantine. The Israeli Red Cross station stood with COVID-19 tests ready to be shipped off to the lab and returned in a few days. Everybody wore a mask, and everyone followed social distancing protocols. It’s an entirely different world compared to the United States, and the world needs to use Israel as a standard to model their COVID-19 policies after.

Here in Israel, COVID-19 restrictions are followed and enforced. If a police officer catches you without a mask, you can be fined 500 shekels, which translates to about $145 USD. The Israeli police regularly checks on those who are in the mandated two-week quarantine, and anyone caught violating it is fined 5000 shekels ($1460 USD). Aside from these restrictions, Israel also enforces lockdowns around every two months whenever COVID-19 rates spike. Currently in its third lockdown, Israel attempts to keep cases down through various means, such as closing schools and requiring citizens to only travel within a one-kilometer radius from their houses. If citizens are found violating any of these restrictions, they will also be fined 500 shekels. Due to these restrictions, Israeli citizens are much more compliant. The difference is stark compared to the United States, where you can find crowded streets with multiple people maskless.

Aside from the effective regulations Israel has in place, it is also the country with the best approach to the vaccine in the world. Israel made deals with vaccine companies such as Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Pfizer in mid November in order to ensure access to the vaccine before larger countries did. They paid a hefty premium for the vaccines, with one anonymous official from the prime minister’s cabinet claiming it was “around $30 per vaccine dose or around twice the price abroad.” This quick approach allowed the tiny country to gain access to the vaccine before many other countries, due to concerns that Israel would not be able to gain access to the vaccine once bigger countries made deals with the companies.

Israel also made the smart decision to repackage the vaccine doses in boxes that are around the size of a pizza, allowing for distribution to more remote sites and in smaller numbers. With about 400 vaccine centers across the country, including in Arab towns, Israelis are able to find a vaccination center near their home for easy access. Israel’s universal public healthcare system, in which every citizen is covered by a healthcare maintenance organization and then connected to a national digital network, makes the process even more efficient. If they are in the group of citizens who are currently being prioritized for the vaccine, including adults over 60, healthcare workers, and those with medical conditions, Israelis may either receive a text message prompting them to make a vaccination appointment, or they may call a center to schedule an appointment. With about 150,000 Israelis being vaccinated a day, Israel is the country with the highest proportional rate of citizens vaccinated, with 11.5 out of 100 citizens vaccinated. The second highest proportional rate, for reference, is Bahrain, with 3.53 out of 100 citizens having received the vaccine. Israel also makes sure no dose of the vaccine is wasted by allowing citizens who have lined up on the streets outside of the vaccination centers to receive the vaccine if there are extra doses available.

In stark contrast to Israel’s astonishing progress, the United States and other world powers are lagging behind. The United States has vaccinated only one percent of its population. Though it is true that these world powers have much larger populations and have distributed more vaccinations overall than Israel has, the proportional rates are incredibly low. Israel’s public healthcare system is, of course, not replicable in many of the world’s larger countries, but the system of texting citizens when they are able to set up a vaccination appointment is incredibly effective, and other countries should attempt to put something similar in place. It is also important to recognize that no dose of the vaccine should be wasted by allowing anyone to get vaccinated if a center has extra doses. Informing people of the location of their nearest vaccination center will also make the process more efficient. Finally, the United States government must continue to purchase vaccine doses, even if it has to be at a premium. Though it may be expensive, these doses are the most important thing that the United States needs right now, and no expense should be spared. These policies will assist the United States in giving the vaccine to everyone who needs it as quickly as possible.

The United States needs to take a page out of Israel’s book and provide its citizens with the same easy and efficient access to the vaccine. Every day, the U.S. drags its feet and delays the process, and more innocent people are put at risk. Using what has worked for Israel in American policies moving forward is the most effective way to ensure that we can have as many people vaccinated as soon as possible and put a stop to this pandemic before it can claim more lives.