Israel, a country with more than 9 million inhabitants, vaccinated 27% of its population, around 2.5 million people, by late January. So what is Israel doing that is working so well? How did the small start-up nation become the number 1 ranked country to administer Covid-19 vaccine doses per capita?
From the beginning of the pandemic, Israel has been at the forefront of antiviral drug research to combat Covid. At the Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR), the research team found two drugs currently used to counter Gaucher’s disease (a rare genetic metabolic disorder), that can be used against a broad range of RNA-viruses, which include Covid-19.
The research team tested an analog for Cerdelga, an FDA approved drug that is used for extended treatment for Gaucher’s disease type 1. They also tested a replica of a second drug that is in the leading stages of the drug approval process. In their research study, the IIBR team noted that they focused on “biologically active components of cell membranes, [as they] can serve as an antiviral therapeutic target.”
In IIBR’s research study on cells they found that when using a mixture of the two drugs, it conducted a significant reduction in the capacity of replication of the coronavirus. In addition, it also led to a reduction in the total destruction of the infected cell. Although this is not a vaccine for the coronavirus, the combination of the two drugs significantly limits the effect of Covid on a patient, which can lead to a mitigation of symptoms. Further, the research team is currently testing the drugs on infected Covid animals, which in part will illustrate how humans with Covid react to the two drugs.
In addition to the meaningful science research Israel has conducted, Prime Minister Netanyahu recently revealed that Israel had created a clandestine agreement with Pfizer, one of the leading Covid-19 vaccination companies. The deal was that in return for 10 million doses of the vaccine from Pfizer, Israel would give the company information such as the age, gender, medical history of the patient, and the reaction a patient has to the vaccine. Throughout Israel’s 73 year history, Israel’s healthcare system has stood out with high life expectancies, birth rates, and percent of GDP dedicated towards health care. The country’s health care infrastructure is made up of four semi-private Health Management Organizations (HMOs) ensuring that all Israeli citizens receive health care, no matter their socioeconomic background. All four of these HMOs are connected through the government, permitting a uniform national vaccination plan. The nationalized healthcare system of HMOs is also a key part of Israel’s success, as it is much easier to work within a system when the main incentive is better access to medical treatment and care.
An anonymous nurse in Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, Israel, commented on the current Covid vaccine public healthcare structure, She said, “An operation at such scale could not have happened in a private health care system,” and that she has “never seen so many health care workers volunteering their free time for the greater cause like this.” This Israeli nurse brings up an important point: in Israel, there is a clear sense of urgency, collectivism, and community when it comes to the vaccine and combating the pandemic.
As much as we all feel isolated and scared during this period in our history, personally, the pandemic has taught me about the importance of building community. This is the essence of Judaism as a whole, as during all Jewish holidays, prayers, and religious activities, we are surrounded by others in order to remind us of the importance of taking care of each other. Even though many of us are in remote settings, it is important to continue to take action to support our own communities, espouse the values of Tikkun Olam, and follow the heroism of volunteers distributing the vaccine in Israel.