Israel's Life-Saving Vaccine Drive is a Test Case for the World | Opinion

Israel is aiming to vaccinate most of its population by early spring. It's a massive undertaking, even for a small country. But we have some strategic advantages and, if we are successful, we hope to become a test case showing the world how to fight this crippling pandemic.

This is not about a superiority complex or gloating over our success, but about saving lives, pure and simple—something that has been a central tenet of my country since its establishment more than 70 years ago. In one of the worst-ever global crises, it is what we must all be focused on.

In just over a month, Israel has succeeded in vaccinating more than 3 million of its 9.25 million citizens and residents, with some 1 million already receiving the second dose of the two-stage inoculation process.

It's an operation of unprecedented scale. Sports stadiums and shopping malls, community centers and public squares have been converted into vaccination centers. Thousands of health care workers have been trained virtually on how to administer and monitor the two shots.

Swift moves taken early on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to secure enough doses of the vaccine helped launch the process. He received the first jab live on national television and worked hard to dispel myths surrounding the safety of the vaccine, particularly in minority communities that have less trust in the national government. His actions have spurred others to go out and get vaccinated.

Some of our success also comes from the sad reality that in our nation's short history we've had to learn to pull together in times of crisis—whether wars, terrorist threats or large-scale immigration operations—all strenuous situations that have demanded great resilience from Israelis.

Another reason we have been able to distribute this vaccine so quickly and efficiently lies in my country's emphasis on innovation and technology, which has been applied to our health system. All citizens and residents are required to become members of one of four highly digitalized health maintenance organizations.

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine vials
Vials of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are seen during a vaccination clinic at the Sir Ludwig Guttmann Health and Wellbeing Centre on December 15, 2020 in Stratford, England. Leon Neal/Getty

This means medical data for every Israeli are stored electronically under strict privacy protocols, enabling us, in a crunch such as this, to contact civilians and invite them for a vaccination. Moreover, the entire medical system is centralized under the government's authority, which has allowed us, in turn, to centralize the entire vaccination process.

A few other key decisions have been undertaken to facilitate this incredible process, including guaranteeing a second dose of the vaccine for each individual who received the first and ensuring necessary equipment is readily available to medical teams.

Our planning has been precise but also highly flexible and highly visible. Unlike many other countries, Israel prioritized vaccinating all those over 60. Large groups of people arrived at vaccination sites as part of a campaign to encourage others to get their vaccination when it is their turn.

Despite all these achievements, the usual chorus of anti-Semitic voices uses this life-saving effort to attack Israel, spreading a new blood libel against the Jewish state. False claims have been made about our obligations to vaccinate the Palestinian population, even though, under international agreements, the Palestinian Authority assumed responsibility for the health care of its own population. Only recently has Israel received a request for help in vaccinating Palestinian medical teams, and even though we have yet to complete our own operation, this week we transferred an initial 5,000 out of 20,000 doses to them.

Israel is known around the world as the first country to assist in hard times whenever and wherever it can. This has been no different with regards to the Palestinian population. Since the start of this crisis, we have trained medical staff and supplied them with COVID-19 testing kits and other essential equipment. Those acts were commended recently by Nikolay Mladenov, outgoing United Nations special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Obviously, we are all still very much in the midst of this crisis, but hopefully the complicated vaccine drive will bring us a step closer to overcoming the pandemic and help us all to return to the world that we once knew.

In the meantime, we are doing all we can to share what we are learning from our vaccination campaign. I feel immensely proud to be part of this significant outreach effort.

Gilad Erdan is Israel's Ambassador to the United States and to the United Nations. He previously served in the Israeli government in various ministerial positions for more than a decade, including in the security cabinet and in Israel's Knesset.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.