Half of Israelis have had at least one Covid jab: ministry

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Just over half of Israel's population has had at least a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, the health ministry said Friday in its latest update.

It said that 4.65 million of the country's 9.29 million population had received a first shot, with 3.27 million of them getting the recommended second dose too.

Takeup of the second jab topped 85 percent among people aged 70 and over, the ministry said.

Israel launched its massive inoculation operation on December 19, backed by a deal with Pfizer which mounted an airlift of its vaccine in exchange for biomedical data on its effects.

A first dose of the vaccine is 85 percent effective two to four weeks after its injection, Israel's Sheba Hospital said last week in a study published in scientific journal The Lancet.

Pfizer's product is 94 percent effective against symptomatic cases of Covid-19, according to a study of 1.2 million people in Israel published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, confirming data already made public in the Jewish state.

"This is the first peer-reviewed large scale evidence for the effectiveness of a vaccine in real world conditions," said Ben Reis, a researcher at Harvard Medical School and one of the paper's authors.

Despite the promising results, Israel has imposed a weekend night curfew over the carnival-like Jewish holiday of Purim, to dampen festive gatherings it fears could cause a spike in infection.

Since Thursday, people have been forbidden to stray more than 1,000 metres (yards) from home between 8:30 pm and 5:00 am daily and parties are banned.

Gatherings are limited to a maximum of 10 people in closed spaces and 20 people in the open.

Purim typically includes costumes and boisterous public celebrations marking a story dating from fourth-century Persia that saw Jews defeat a murderous plot against them.

For many it also involves services in synagogues and shared meals.

"For this Purim, there is a mixture of joy and worry about corona," Health Minister Yuli Edelstein wrote on his Twitter account on Friday.

The ministry's latest update said that nearly 770,000 cases had been recorded in Israel since the start of the pandemic, including close to 5,700 deaths.

While Israel is carrying out one of the largest vaccination campaigns in the world, Palestinians have received just over 30,000 doses, including 2,000 from the Jewish state, which has pledged to provide it with 5,000.

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