JERUSALEM (REUTERS) - Israel has administered two doses of Covid-19 vaccine to more than half its population, the health minister said on Thursday (March 25), a world-beating roll-out that has helped the country emerge from pandemic closures.
Distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Israel began last December, with eligibility extended to citizens and residents over the age of 16 - some 69 per cent of the 9.3 million population.
People are deemed fully protected a week after receiving the second shot.
In a statement announcing the milestone amid a sustained drop in new Covid-19 cases, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on citizens "to follow (health) guidelines so that the coronavirus does not return".
He said 50.07 per cent of the overall population had received both vaccine doses, and 55.96 per cent had just the first dose.
Israel issues the fully vaccinated, and the around 8.7 per cent of its population who have recovered from Covid-19 with presumed immunity, so-called "Green Pass" certificates that confer access to various leisure venues.
Israel began easing a nationwide lockdown in late February.
Most businesses and schools, as well as airports, have gradually resumed activity - with caps on capacity.
The country has seen an 85 per cent drop in daily Covid-19 deaths, a 72 per cent decrease in the critically ill and 86 per cent fewer daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic's third peak in mid-January, according to Dr Eran Segal, a data scientist at Israel's Weizmann Institute of Science.
Director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry Hezi Levi told Reuters he estimated that the entire population eligible for vaccination will be fully inoculated by the end of May.
About a third of the country is under 16 and cannot be vaccinated until the shot is deemed safe for children.
This month, the Health Ministry said that recovered Covid-19 patients could get vaccinated with one jab administered at least three months after recovery.
Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians as part of its population and has been providing them vaccines. It has also offered vaccines to Palestinians who work in Israel and settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinians health officials have launched a limited vaccination programme in the West Bank and Gaza Strip using doses provided by Israel, Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the global Covax vaccine-sharing initiative.
Israel has come under international criticism for not doing more to enable Palestinian vaccination. It says Palestinians are responsible for such health measures in their self-rule areas.
A poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, released on Tuesday, found that 55 per cent of Palestinians are willing to take the vaccine when it becomes available or have already received it, while 43 per cent are unwilling to take it.
In Israel, some officials privately estimate that 10 per cent of the eligible population do not intend to get vaccinated.