Why Israel's vaccine success might be hard to replicate

The semiprivate, publicly funded HMOs, which don’t respond to the same profit incentives that private insurance companies in the United States do, are present not just in big cities but also in more remote and disadvantaged locations such as “poor, smaller Arab towns or Bedouin villages in the Negev” desert, Bahar wrote to me in an email. “The contrast in my mind here was rural America, which will be hard to vaccinate if people there have to drive one and a half hours each way to the closest CVS or clinic.” (In this regard, Israel benefits immensely from being a much smaller country than the United States.)

The HMOs have helped make Israel’s health-care system one of the most efficient in the world. And crucially—and in contrast to public sentiment regarding the government and other aspects of the health-care system such as surgery or queues for services—confidence in these health funds is widespread; roughly three-quarters of Israelis say they trust their HMO physician, and 90 percent say they are satisfied with their plan. This trust matters, because the HMOs are at the forefront of the vaccination campaign.

To execute that campaign, the Israeli Ministry of Health has acted as a hub for receiving the vaccines from drugmakers and distributing them to the HMOs. The HMOs tapped into the country’s digital medical records to determine the order in which population segments needed to be vaccinated, and speedily set up hundreds of vaccination centers across the country.