As most places struggle to vaccinate even 1% of their population, in Israel 21% of residents—1.9 million people—have gotten shots since the Health Ministry began offering the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE on Dec. 20. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says almost everyone in the country (though not Palestinians in the adjacent West Bank) will be vaccinated by early spring. “We’re moving very fast in all directions,” says Arnon Shahar, a doctor running the virus task force for Maccabi Healthcare Services, Israel’s second-largest medical network. “There’s a lot of pressure.”
Centralized government, limited territory, and a relatively small population—9.3 million—have all helped Israel reach a level of coverage that’s almost double that of the No. 2 country, the United Arab Emirates, and seven times that of the U.S. Israel’s advantages have been amplified by its universal health insurance and a digitized medical system with extensive records that allow providers to target at-risk populations and track progress. And with Netanyahu desperate to win an upcoming election, he’s made the vaccination effort a top priority.