Magen David Adom Details Experiences in Distributing the Coronavirus Vaccine in Israel

A nursing home resident is vaccinated by a Magen David Adom paramedic.
A nursing home resident is vaccinated by a Magen David Adom paramedic. (All photos provided by Magen David Adom)

On January 7, 2021, Magen David Adom (MDA), Israel’s national emergency medical and blood services organization, completed the first round of vaccinations in all elderly care facilities and sheltered accommodation, making the Jewish state the first country in the world to vaccinate all elderly care facilities in the first vaccination phase.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Magen David Adom, as the nation’s rescue organization, has been at the forefront of the fight against the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, and recently, the organization has begun leading the nation’s vaccination efforts, both in old age homes as well as helping Israel’s HMOs and local municipalities.

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Learning to address various distribution challenges, the EMS organization hopes to pass along its knowledge so that others may learn from its experience.

Israel’s Ministry of Health tasked Magen David Adom with vaccinating at the nursing homes and assisted living residents first, as they are at the highest risk of serious complications and mortality from the coronavirus – at the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic has infected over 70 million people and caused the death of 1.5 million worldwide with most being elderly or having chronic illnesses.

A nursing home resident is vaccinated by a Magen David Adom doctor.

Toward these efforts, Magen David Adom teams with extensive experience with the elderly population underwent special training in preparation for the vaccinations as part of the “Magen Avot Veimaot” (Protecting Fathers and Mothers) program and performed them in a high-quality, fast and highly professional manner.

The first challenge that MDA addressed was the fragility of the vaccine, which requires very specific conditions that pose significant logistical challenges, particularly in transporting the vials, when aiming to vaccinate a large population.

The vials containing the Pfizer vaccines were stored in a deep freezer of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 degrees Fahrenheit) and then thawed to a temperature of two-to-eight degrees Celsius (35.6-to-46.4 degrees Fahrenheit), at which point they were used within five days. Once thawed to room temperature, the vials had to be used within six hours, prohibiting the transport of vials after thawing as the material is very sensitive to movement.

While theoretically, some residents and employees of old age homes can travel to vaccination sites, this poses a significant risk to their health. Therefore, it was determined that a large-scale vaccination drive would be carried out and the vaccines would be brought to these facilitates. There are several hundred such homes in Israel, ranging in size from dozens to hundreds of residents, with the average being home to several hundred residents and employees.

The first round of vaccinations by Pfizer, which managed to produce an mRNA vaccine with 95% effectiveness, took approximately 10 days and included about 150,000 residents and employees of elderly care facilities and sheltered accommodation in Israel.

The vaccines are given at least 21 days apart depending on the brand, and as such, the second round of vaccinations has begun with patients receiving the second and final dose. After the month-long full vaccination process (21 days after the first vaccination plus a week after the second vaccination), the vaccinated person will be considered fully immune.

As in other countries around the world, Israel has prioritized the vaccination of healthcare workers to allow them to safely care for patients, and such medical teams have been chosen to be vaccinated first to allow them to continue to do their jobs while reducing the risks of contracting the illness and need for quarantine. However, Magen David Adom, whose teams have been working around the clock, taking more than 3.5 million samples since the start of the pandemic, has decided to not vaccinate its 3,000 employees and 24,000 volunteers separately. 

Instead, the teams are being vaccinated in residential care facilities where there are fewer residents than vaccines which have been thawed to prevent wasting the vaccines. The employees and volunteers are invited to the facilities based on the number of available vaccines. Should the vaccines be unavailable on a given day, the employees and volunteers will be invited back the next day. This method allows MDA to vaccinate its teams while carrying out the national mission.

A nursing home resident is vaccinated by a Magen David Adom EMT.

Magen David Adom suggests that after vaccinating the medical teams, it is advisable to use this method in order to manage the balance of the vaccine doses among the other vaccinated persons according to the priorities of the state.

As healthcare systems worldwide have faced unprecedented challenges, Israel has become the leader in vaccinating countries, in large part thanks to Magen David Adom. Upon completion of vaccinating the elderly, the EMS organization is looking to vaccinate the wider population to defeat the coronavirus and so that its citizens will be able to return to the daily routine as soon as possible.

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