TEL AVIV—In the world’s fastest coronavirus vaccine rollout to date, Israel has given at least one shot to nearly 60% of its residents, a feat propelled by an ample supply of doses and an uncommon healthcare system that combines competition with tax-funded universal coverage.
Israel, a small, wealthy nation with a young population, was uniquely qualified to confront the pandemic: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had secured enough vaccine stocks by paying more, as well as by offering access to Israelis’ personal health data to gauge the vaccine’s effectiveness. Its healthcare system had the means to quickly deliver the shots into the arms of Israelis.
The country’s four health-management organizations used centralized data-keeping, technology and the cradle-to-grave ties between Israelis and their doctors to speed up the vaccination drive, targeting residents nationwide with text messages, emails and phone calls. The efficiencies of Israel’s HMOs have been honed by years of competing for patients—and for the tax revenue gained by adding each new member—as they try to outdo each other in quality and availability of care.
“It’s really a unique structure,” said economist Moshe Bar Siman Tov, who oversaw Israel’s coronavirus response last year. “I’m not sure it’s possible to duplicate it. It’s a mixture of socialist fundamentals and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Israel’s bars and restaurants reopened last week to vaccinated people, prompting street parties in Tel Aviv, and the country is now looking ahead to a broader economic rebound.
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