This week I felt the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic lift off my shoulders in an underground car park under a shopping mall in Tel Aviv.
In two weeks, more than a million Israelis received their first vaccination against the virus – and there, to my relief, my 86-year-old grandmother Leah Stern became one of them to my relief.
Israel, a country of 10 million people, is currently the world leader in vaccinations per capita. 12 percent of Israelis have already received their first dose of vaccine. By comparison, in the UK only 1.5% received their first push.
So what are we doing right? The ease of my grandmother’s experience gave me a firsthand look at our success.
Due to the limited open space, Israel is trying to optimize the public areas for vaccination and to be resourceful with its solutions.
Across the country, vaccines are being given not only in health facilities, but also in community centers, town squares and even parking lots.
People were waiting quietly in their cars and in chairs when we entered while the nurses were giving gunshots at eight different stations around the room.
All eight patients were in my grandmother’s age group.
Israel’s typically antagonistic bureaucracy was nowhere to be found.
From start to finish, it was relatively straightforward for my grandmother to plan and maintain the push.
There are four free health care providers in Israel that – unlike the one NHS in the UK – compete for membership and have mobile apps that streamline the planning process.
Every Israeli must legally register for health insurance with one of these providers. Therefore, it is relatively easy to electronically select and schedule vaccine candidates based on information already in the system.
This is probably the main reason for the rapid success of the introduction of COVID-19 vaccination in Israel, as well as the rapid distribution of the vaccine in refrigerated trucks by the army.
Our country currently has enough Pfizer BioNTech vaccine to vaccinate everyone over 60, as well as immunocompromised individuals and health care workers.
While more vaccines will be needed to eradicate COVID-19 in Israel, it is likely that the most vulnerable populations will be immune by March.
Optimists cite Israel’s emphasis on the family as the reason why so many older Israelis have been vaccinated and their children and grandchildren are actively involved in their daily lives. For us, the return to normal means the resumption of dinner on Friday evenings, and weekly celebrations depend on the physical presence of the entire family.
The more cynical among us believe the upcoming elections in Israel are the real basis of the resolve behind the state vaccination campaign. (You must apologize for being cynical; it will be our fourth choice in two years).
That being said, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was personally involved in every step of the publicly known process, from obtaining the vaccine shipments to receiving them at the airport.
Netanyahu was the first Israeli to be vaccinated, and he has been on TV almost every day since visiting one of the many vaccination sites across the country.
Regardless of how you view the current government of Israel, the benefits of speedy immunization are undeniable.
The pandemic continues to take a heavy economic toll as Israelis face a third nationwide lockdown. The government is reportedly to announce further restrictions on movement and activity in the coming days.
It is no wonder, however, that Israel is receiving international attention for the comparative success of its mass vaccination efforts.