Israeli PM joins world leaders getting COVID-19 vaccine

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020.  (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel on Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020. (Amir Cohen/Pool via AP)

TEL AVIV – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was vaccinated against the coronavirus on live television Saturday, becoming the first Israeli and one of the world's leaders to be inoculated.

Israel is set to begin vaccinating its health workers and nursing home residents beginning Sunday. Netanyahu said he wanted to be the country's first recipient to set a personal example and to encourage Israelis to get the shot. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated Friday in a similar attempt to boost public confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.

“I believe in this vaccine,” he said before receiving the injection of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. Netanyahu rolled up the right sleeve of his black, short-sleeve shirt and waited for several minutes before receiving the injection. He called it an “exciting moment” that would put Israel on the path to returning to its normal routines.

The event also gave Netanyahu, who has come under heavy public criticism for his management of the coronavirus crisis, a political boost as the country appears to be heading to its fourth election in just two years.

Netanyahu's coalition government with his rival, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, has been plagued by paralysis and dysfunction since taking office in May and will automatically collapse on Tuesday, if it cannot pass a budget. That would trigger a new election three months from now.

After receiving his shot, Netanyahu was placed in observation for half an hour to monitor for possible allergic reactions. He told reporters afterwards that he was determined to lead the country out of the coronavirus crisis.

Israel's health minister, Yuli Edelstein, also was vaccinated Saturday. Other Israeli leaders, including the figurehead president and military chief, were expected to follow suit on Sunday along with frontline healthcare workers. The vaccination campaign is set to expand to the broader public in the coming weeks.

Netanyahu has said the government has secured sufficient doses for Israel's 9 million people from both Pfizer and Moderna, whose vaccine U.S. authorities approved this week for emergency use.