Vaccine Center set up in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv (Photo Credit Eliran T, CC BY-SA 4.0)

In Israel, over 1,200,000 people (mostly the elderly) have been vaccinated for COVID-19. But the pandemic is still out of control. In fact, the Jewish state is first in the world when it comes to vaccinating its 9.3 million population. However, COVID-19 is still infecting over 5,000 people daily.

The main problem is in the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and the Israeli Arab communities. Many violate the restrictions regarding the wearing of masks and the ban on congregating in numbers. The religious Jews insist on praying in their congregations and keeping their entire educational system running as usual. Moreover, Israeli Arabs continue holding big weddings and family gatherings attended by scores of relatives and friends. The bottom line – a loose lockdown is now in force, but it is not tight enough to halt the contagion.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is now talking about a 100% lockdown, except for medical and other essential services, with police officers handing out stiff fines for any violations. Schools and religious seminaries would also be closed for ten days. But, it is fair to say Netanyahu himself is partly responsible for the current situation as he has, in effect, enabled his Ultra-Orthodox political partners to flaunt the restrictions. One expert has again called for the IDF’s Home Front Command to be mobilized to enforce the lockdown. However, with another early election slated for March 23, Netanyahu balks at angering his political allies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Muhammad Abd al-Wahhab Jabarin, the millionth Israeli to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and medical staff in Umm al-Fahm, January 1, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Meanwhile, in a totally new twist, Bibi is attempting to gain support from Israeli Arab voters! For several weeks now, the PM has been trying to cozy up with Israeli Arab Knesset members. He reportedly has told his Likud party that he can garner enough Arab votes for an additional two Likud Knesset seats in the very tight race now underway. In keeping with this, guess who was presented as the one-millionth Israeli to receive the vaccine? None other than an Israeli Arab with the beaming PM on hand for the photo opp. The Israeli Arab voter responded in kind by praising Netanyahu to high heaven. Perish the thought this was an election ploy planned by Netanyahu to gain Israeli Arab votes!

From the cradle to the grave …

How come Israel is leading the world in the rate of COVID vaccinations compared to the overall population? Credit where credit is due… From its rebirth in 1948, the Jewish state has had socialized medical care. Every citizen is a member of one of three separate insurance providers (sick funds) with clinics located all around the country in all major towns and cities. We Israelis pay a monthly subsidized fee to our choice of a sick fund.

When an Israeli is not feeling well, he/she calls his/her clinic and receives an appointment with a doctor within 24 hours. Then he/she is diagnosed by a general practitioner, and if needed, then written a prescription which can be filled out at a pharmacy in the same building. However, if the patient requires further diagnosis by a specialist, he/she is given authorization for the follow-up appointments. Within a relatively short period of time, the patient will be examined by the specialist for appropriate care and possibly an operation. If it is urgent, it could be the next day. However, if it is not that serious or life-threatening, it could take quite some time.

For example, a friend of mine once had heart trouble. He got to see a heart surgeon employed by a sick fund who informed him that he indeed required an operation. My friend was then put on a waiting list for eight months. However, if he was ready to pay ten thousand dollars, the very same surgeon who enjoyed a sterling reputation would do it privately the following week. This may sound out of order, but it is all kosher and has a certain logic to it.

Again, let me repeat, if my friend had a life-threatening heart condition, he would have been operated on within a day or so, but he could not choose the surgeon – whoever was on duty would perform the operation. As for the morality, does every citizen enjoy exactly the same quality of life, eat the same food, live in the same kind of residence, drive the same model car, and so on? Summing up, Israel as a medical system provides good medical care for all its citizens. But there is also an additional opportunity for those who are ready to pay and select their doctors, and private medical insurance companies have been set up to meet the evolving medical situation. Yes, it is a capitalistic offshoot of Israel’s socialized medical system.

Three cheers for socialized medicine …

Now, in the current COVID crisis, Israel’s socialized medical services are proving to be a major success. For example, my wife and I just got our first Pfizer vaccination. We called our sick fund and gave our identification numbers. As we are both over 80 years old, we were entitled to immediate vaccinations. We were informed of possible dates at vaccination centers near our home and asked which time and place we preferred. We then showed up at the vaccination center, where we received our Pfizer dose. Upon returning home, we again informed our sick fund and were given a date and time for the follow-up vaccination in another 21 days. It was a really smooth and professional procedure from start to finish. So again, three cheers for socialized medicine.

Dr. Tal Zaks

(In retrospect, maybe the plight of the Jewish children, women, and men left totally without any medical care and tortured to death in the Nazi concentration camps during WWII induced Israel’s founding fathers to set up a national health service that provides good health care for all its citizens.) By the way, while I’m on the Jewish angle, the head of Moderna’s COVID-19 program happens to be an Israeli – Dr. Tal Zaks, who is a graduate of Ben Gurion University.

Prime Minister Netanyahu deserves credit for wrapping up a purchase deal with Pfizer. However, there is another angle to this story. Israel is proving to be a very valuable ‘test case’ for Pfizer. Israel’s socialized health system has enabled Pfizer to study the results from the swift vaccination of a large number of elderly people. It’s almost like a monumental test in the lab. Pfizer can then draw its conclusions on the continued development and sale of its vaccine.

In fact, at first here in Israel, some experts were worried that America’s FDA had rushed through the Pfizer vaccine for approval, and there could be negative results in the future (remember the Thalidomide disaster in the 1960s that crippled many people). However, Israel’s medical community supported Netanyahu in going full steam ahead with Pfizer!

Iran breaking out for nuclear weapons …

Tehran has announced publically that it is again producing 20% enriched uranium at its Fordo installation. Netanyahu told Israel’s cabinet that there was no explanation for this other than for the production of nuclear weapons. However, although tension has been rising with Tehran, will the Ayatollahs risk a major escalation while the unpredictable US President Donald Trump remains in office until January 20?

In yet another aggressive step, Iranian warships have seized a South Korean cargo vessel in the Gulf. The vessel was transporting 7,200 tons of ethanol. The Iranians have accused it of polluting the Gulf and escorted it to an Iranian port. Tehran has over seven billion dollars frozen in South Korean banks due to US sanctions.

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