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Aim was 200,000 shots a day, but vaccine centers are quiet

As demand for vaccines plummets, Israel may resort to incentive programs

Proposals include sending health workers to offices of major companies, bonuses for convincing members of public to vaccinate; firms offer cash, mull bans on those without shots

An Israeli health worker waits for people to come get vaccinated at a largely empty Clalit Health Services vaccination station on February 7, 2021, in the northern city of Herzliya. (Gili Yaari  /Flash90)
An Israeli health worker waits for people to come get vaccinated at a largely empty Clalit Health Services vaccination station on February 7, 2021, in the northern city of Herzliya. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

With Israel’s world-leading vaccination drive slowing because of a collapse in demand, the Health Ministry and some private firms are looking at ways to incentivize Israelis to go and get their shots.

The Health Ministry is reportedly weighing a plan to send out medical staff to offices of major companies around the country to vaccinate employees, Channel 13 reported Monday.

Currently, this is logistically problematic because the HMOs are responsible for vaccinating Israelis and each employee has their own HMO membership.

Nonetheless, a “control center” will be established in the Health Ministry to discuss these issues and will be responsible for coordinating with the various companies involved, the report said.

Also, a meeting was held Monday between the directors of Israel’s four HMOs and the Health Ministry where it was decided that a plan would be presented for the approval of the Finance Ministry, which would allow HMOs to give staff members who persuade patients to get vaccinated a salary bonus.

Israel has been aiming to dole out 200,000 shots a day, but although everyone 16 and over is now eligible for the vaccine, demand is running at barely half that total.

Meanwhile, some companies are taking the matter into their own hands.

The BIG shopping center firm announced that it will not allow unvaccinated Israelis into its offices in Herzliya, according to Channel 12.

The almost empty Big Shopping Center in Ashdod, southern Israel, on February 7, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The Shufersal grocery store chain says it’ll pay staff members for the hours needed to go and get vaccinated.

The Swiss System mattress firm will give a NIS 500 bonus to all of its employees who get vaccinated and even a day off as well, Channel 12 reported. While the “We like you too” cafe chain will be offering its employees a NIS 300 bonus for each vaccinated employee.

The Givatayim municipality will offer a municipal tax deduction for every family that has been vaccinated.

Pelephone, Yes! and Bezeq International announced a collaboration with the “Latet” charity firm in which they will donate a hot meal to those in need for each of the 4,000 employees of the companies who get vaccinated.

Israelis receive a COVID-19 vaccine at a sports hall turned into a Clalit Health vaccination center in Hod Hasharon, February 02, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Though all Israelis 16 and older are eligible to get vaccinated, the inoculation centers say few are showing up.

According to Channel 12, Israel’s health providers were ready for 200,000 vaccinations a day since last week. But demand has dropped by 50 percent since a record 240,000 Israelis were vaccinated on January 12.

“We have no explanation for why people are not coming. We send out messages telling people to come and get vaccinated, but still the response is low,” a Clalit health official told the network.

According to the station, 119,000 shots are administered on Monday, 53,000 of them the first dose.

Many blamed a rash of anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories online, including from a popular celebrity rabbi.

Moshe Tsarfati, waiting at a vaccination center in Jerusalem for a vaccine, told Channel 12: “It’s just shocking the flood of conspiracy theories online against vaccinating. It’s shocking and people are dying as a consequence.”

Israelis sit at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, which opened Sunday, as Israel eases the restrictions of a 3rd lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Sunday, Facebook announced that it had removed a major group promoting conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines that in recent weeks had urged its thousands of members to schedule appointments to inoculate and then to cancel them at the last minute, forcing HMOs to throw out unused doses.

Israel is still leading the world in vaccination rates per capita, having given the first shot to over 3.5 million of its citizens and the second to 2.1 million.

According to OECD figures cited by Channel 12, Israel is also leading the world in infections, though it is the lowest for mortality (0.7%).

There have also been worrying signs of medical workers declining to be vaccinated.

Under two-thirds of hospital staff at the Laniado Medical Center have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, according to Channel 12, which cited Health Ministry figures.

The Netanya hospital has seen 60 percent of its doctors and 60% of nursing staff get the shots, it said.

At Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, just 73% of doctors, and 72% of nurses have been inoculated.

The Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center in the capital, by contrast, was leading with 94% of doctors and 89% of nurses getting the vaccines.

The vaccines have been available for medical staff since late December, and those who are not vaccinated have declined the shots of their own accord.

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