Over half of Israelis had both COVID vaccine doses

Over half of Israel's population has had two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, its health minister said Thursday (March 25).

It's a world-beating roll-out that has helped the country emerge from pandemic closures.

Israel began distributing the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in December - with eligibility extended to people over the age of 16.

That's around 69% of a population of 9.3 million.

Israelis like Barak Zoref say the roll-out is transformative, giving them their freedom back.

"I think it is very good, it helps us to live freely, not like other countries where they are afraid to live and are in quarantine and all that."

In a statement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said at least 50.07% of the overall population had received both vaccine doses, and some 55.96% the first dose.

Director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry Hezi Levi told Reuters he hopes the population eligible for vaccination will be fully inoculated by the end of May.

Israel has issued the fully vaccinated, and those who have recovered from COVID-19, with so-called "Green Pass" certificates that allow access to some leisure venues.

Since the country eased its nationwide lockdown in late February, most businesses, schools and airports have gradually resumed activity, with caps on capacity.

Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians as part of its population and has been providing them with vaccines.

It has offered shots to Palestinians who work in Israel and settlements in the occupied West Bank too.

Palestinian health officials have launched a limited vaccination program in the West Bank and Gaza Strip using doses from Israel, Russia, the UAE and the global COVAX scheme.

But Israel has faced international criticism for not doing more to enable Palestinian vaccination - a view Palestinian Ziad Tawfiq shares.

"We live under an occupation, even though we say we are a state, we are really not, they are a state that is in control over us through land, air and sea, so they are stronger than us, they are able to obtain all types of vaccines and inoculate all the population, but it is not easy for us to get the vaccines like we think it is."

Israel says Palestinians are responsible for such health measures in their self-rule areas.