Eyes on Israel

What they are doing represents a gift to the world in terms of learning

Welcome to Plugging the Gap (my email newsletter about Covid-19 and its economics). In case you don’t know me, I’m an economist and professor at the University of Toronto. I have written lots of books including, most recently, on Covid-19. You can follow me on Twitter (@joshgans) or subscribe to this email newsletter here.

First, something that I really hate happened. I mucked up my calculations for Monday’s post on the number of doses. Not sure how but I should have caught it. The error was drastic enough that my conclusion has changed. I think the basic trade-offs highlighted by the first doses first advocates hold even when considering a more nuanced supply situation. There has to be a pretty big three-month drop off in efficacy from one dose to make two doses a month apart the way to go. The updated post is here. My apologies to all.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled newsing.

Israel are roaring ahead with vaccine distribution. It is the only place where I know of friends my age who are being innoculated. As of the 4th January, they have distributed over 1.2 million doses of the vaccine adding up to 13.5% of their population. How have they done this? As I read accounts, it seems that they were just prepared. From the New York Times:

At the headquarters of one of the H.M.O.s in Jerusalem this week, the atmosphere was calm and orderly. A constant stream of people were seated in small booths and injected within a minute or two of their arrival — much less time than it had taken them to get through on the phone to make the appointment.

In Tel Aviv, City Hall and the Sourasky Medical Center said that to meet demand, they were opening a huge vaccination center in the city’s iconic Rabin Square in the first week of January.

Facilities have been accommodating toward younger Israelis who have shown up with older relatives and have sometimes called on the general public to come rather than throw away leftover trays of thawed vaccine that cannot be stored until the next day.

“We make use of every drop,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, a senior Health Ministry official, said on television on Thursday.

The mystery going forward is why no one else was. And they had every possible headwind going against them. Recent struggles with outbreaks. A beleaguered government, political instability and a divided population where they have to convince a minority who have every reason to be distrustful to take the vaccine. Suffice it to say, on any objective metric, one would have expected potential disaster rather than world-beating success.

But that is not what I want to focus on. Instead, Israel is going to provide our window into the future. Big questions can potentially be answered: does vaccination help stop viral spread and is it effective against new Covid variants will be answered? How quickly can economic and social life return to normal once a country is vaccinated? How long does immunity last? And what are the long-term side-effects?

And then there is this.

Things are as bad as they have ever been. This is vaccination taking place during the upswing of a Covid outbreak. We might get to see how this gets turned around. Again, in terms of giving us the signals we need, Israel is almost an ideal candidate population

Finally, Israel has an unprecedented opportunity to help its own long-term problems with this. The Palestinian Authority has opted to procure its own vaccines. Such as the distrust that is to be expected. But Israel has enough doses on order to cover the whole population including the occupied territories. If there is a way to bring what they have done to their neighbours, this might be the most hopeful event out of this whole mess.

What did I miss?