LIVE TV: Netanyahu receives Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

“I believe in this vaccine,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before receiving an injection of the Pfizer/BioNTech formula on Saturday night.

By Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vaccinated against the coronavirus on live television Saturday, becoming the first Israeli and one of the world’s leaders to be inoculated.

Israel is set to begin vaccinating its health workers and nursing home residents beginning Sunday. Netanyahu said he wanted to be the country’s first recipient to set a personal example and to encourage Israelis to get the shot. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated Friday in a similar attempt to boost public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

“I believe in this vaccine,” he said before receiving the injection of the Pfizer/BioNTech formula at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. Netanyahu rolled up the right sleeve of his black, short-sleeve shirt and waited for several minutes before receiving the injection. He called it an “exciting moment” that would put Israel on the path to returning to its normal routines.

After receiving his shot, Netanyahu was placed in observation for half an hour to monitor for possible allergic reactions. He told reporters afterwards that he was determined to lead the country out of the coronavirus crisis.

Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, also was vaccinated Saturday. Other Israeli leaders, including President Reuven Rivlin, were expected to follow suit on Sunday along with frontline healthcare workers. The vaccination campaign is set to expand to the broader public in the coming weeks.

Netanyahu has said the government has secured sufficient doses for Israel’s 9 million people from both Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccine U.S. authorities approved this week for emergency use.

But polls have shown that many Israelis are reluctant to receive shots right away.

Israel has had mixed results in its fight against the virus. Netanyahu was lauded in the spring for sealing borders and locking down the country swiftly, a move that battered the economy but drove down infection rates.

But reopening sent confirmed cases soaring in late summer, leading to what at the time was one of the world’s worst outbreaks. A second nationwide lockdown has only been partially lifted since then amid a new surge in daily reported cases. Unemployment remains in the double digits.

Israel has reported more than 366,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 virus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic. The country currently is recording nearly 3,000 new cases a day, and officials have begun debating the possibility of a third nationwide lockdown to bring the outbreak under control.

Israel has an agreement with Pfizer to secure 8 million doses of the U.S. pharmaceutical company’s vaccine — enough to cover nearly half of Israel’s population since each person requires two doses. Netanyahu had personally reached out multiple times to Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla, including a 2 a.m. phone call at one point.

He thanked Bourla on Saturday and called the Pfizer chief “my new personal friend.”

Israel has mobile vaccination units with refrigerators that can keep the Pfizer shots at the required minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94 F).

Israel reached a separate agreement with Moderna earlier this month to purchase 6 million doses of its vaccine — enough for another 3 million Israelis. Officials expect to be able to administer over 60,000 doses a day.