Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has received a COVID-19 vaccine jab, kicking off a national roll-out over the coming days.
Netanyahu, 71, and his health minister were injected on Saturday with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine live on TV at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.
“I asked to be vaccinated first, together with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, to serve as personal examples and encourage you to be vaccinated,” Netanyahu told the television audience.
“This is a very moving moment,” he said, adding businesses would soon be able to resume work and people will be able to earn a living as before.
The arrival of the Pfizer vaccine, and later on, the one from Moderna, marked “the beginning of the end”, he said.
Netanyahu and Edelstein must each receive a booster shot in three weeks for optimal protection from the coronavirus.
The vaccine will be rolled out at 10 hospitals and vaccination centres around Israel for healthcare workers from Sunday, according to the health ministry.
During the course of the week, a ministry statement said, vaccinations will be extended to the general public, starting with those above 60 years of age.
The massive vaccination campaign, said to be the biggest in Israel’s history and titled “Give a Shoulder”, was pulled forward from a December 27 target date.
The first vaccine doses arrived in Israel a week ago, and the aim is to administer 60,000 jabs per day.
Israel reached an agreement with Pfizer to supply eight million doses of its newly approved vaccine – enough to cover almost half of Israel’s population of nearly nine million since each person requires two doses.
Israel reached a separate agreement with Moderna earlier this month to buy six million doses of its vaccine – enough for another three million Israelis.
But millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control will have to wait much longer.
Israel’s vaccination campaign will include Jewish settlers living deep inside the illegally occupied West Bank, who are Israeli citizens, but not the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians.
They will have to wait for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank under interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s, to provide them.
Latest Israeli health ministry figures reported more than 370,000 people had tested positive for the virus since the country confirmed its first case in February.
More than 3,000 people have died in a country of approximately nine million.