New Israeli Developments Against COVID-19

By Clara Citron

Israel has touts one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Photo: Sebastian Scheiner/The Associated Press

On November 1, 2021, Israel reopened its doors to international tourists for the first time since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Travelers must be fully vaccinated (including a booster vaccine), receive a negative PCR test, and complete an entry statement at least 24 hours prior to flying. Since vaccine rollouts began, Israel has vaccinated more than 88% of its citizens, issuing over 16 million doses. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Israel has been incredibly careful in its efforts to control the virus. Before any vaccines were approved, there were mandatory curfews, 14-day quarantines for anyone to enter the country, and phone apps that helped the government track individuals’ whereabouts and detect if they had broken their quarantine or been exposed to COVID-19. While some argue that the laws have been too strict and that the current travel requirements are overbearing, it is important to remember the uniqueness of Israel in the world arena. Due to the threat Israel’s neighbors impose on a daily basis, the New Jersey-sized country cannot afford to be lenient on its COVID policies. Imagine what might happen if there was an outbreak within the IDF, causing hundreds or thousands of soldiers to to fall ill and not be able to protect their country. Unfortunately, that is a much bigger risk for Israel than it is for other world superpowers, and the country simply cannot afford to deal with those consequences.

With a high adult vaccination rate, the next population target is Israeli children. On Wednesday evening, the Pfizer vaccine was approved for children ages 5–11, and will soon be readily available for all children within this age group. According to Nadav Davidovitch, an Israeli epidemiology professor at Ben Gurion University, lower levels of side effects are anticipated for the 5–11 age bracket compared to those faced by teenagers. However, Davidovitch anticipates that only 50% of Israeli parents will initially opt to vaccinate their young children, with the remaining 50% of the population showing reservations, especially among Ultra-Orthodox communities. The approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5–11 comes in conjunction with the Health Ministry’s announcement that more than 10% of children who had COVID-19 suffer from lingering effects.

Medical workers celebrate on Israel’s independence day. Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90

But for those unwilling to get the jab, there could be a needle-free alternative in their future. Israeli inventors of a vaccine in pill-form have been given clearance to begin clinical trials in South Africa. Experts say that the development of a COVID-19 pill would certainly help increase vaccination rates as many people would prefer to take a pill than receive a shot. Additionally, a pill would aid the distribution and accessibility of booster doses, potentially allowing for at-home administration. The pill would be a single-dose affair.

In addition to the development of a vaccine pill, Israeli researchers are also developing a pill to help treat the coronavirus. This pill acts as an antiviral, reducing the virus’s ability to spread and slowing down the disease. The antiviral pills would be taken at the onset of any COVID-19 symptoms and researchers believe the development of such a medication would significantly reduce hospitalizations and overall COVID death rates.

Though Israel and other countries in the region such as Morocco and several Gulf states have been successful in their vaccine rollout, much of the region struggled. Only 21% of the Middle East had received a single dose of the vaccine by mid-August, and less than 13% were fully vaccinated. While the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has the highest global vaccination rate at 90%, the remaining Middle East countries have not followed suit. With that said, the Middle East as a whole is seeing very low levels of new COVID-19 cases, with the exception of Jordan and Iran. If Israelis are successful in developing a COVID-19 vaccine pill, perhaps the rate of vaccination will increase in the Middle East.

With the world opening back up again, it is important to take proper precautions to keep ourselves and others safe against the virus. With Israeli doctors and researchers on the forefront of the medical field, the Jewish state is hopeful it can be a major contributor to making COVID a thing of the past.

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The Israel Journal at NYU is an explanatory journal dedicated to clearing up the conversation around Israel.