JERUSALEM -- More than 97% of COVID-19 deaths in Israel over the past month were people who had not been vaccinated, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday, as his government tries to increase turnout for the Pfizer Inc shots.

Around 38% of Israel's 9 million population have received at least one vaccine dose, the Health Ministry says. But government goals of achieving 50% coverage and reopening the economy next month have been challenged as the daily vaccination pace ebbs.

"We are in a national emergency," Netanyahu told reporters.

"I want to give you a jarring fact: Over the last month - the last 30 days - 1,536 people have died (of COVID-19) in the State of Israel. More than 97% of them had not been vaccinated. Fewer than 3% had been vaccinated."

The vaccination drive began on Dec. 19 with a focus on Israelis over the age of 60 and other high-risk groups. Israel has since lowered the eligible age to 16, but sees less urgency among younger citizens who are less prone to dangerous coronavirus complications.

Israeli officials also believe some people are swayed by rumours of potential lasting side-effects from the vaccines.

Dismissing vaccine scepticism as "fake news", Netanyahu added: "We are a vaccination nation. We have vaccines for every citizen, for everyone ... If you go and get vaccinated you are saving your lives."

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie