Prime Minister Naftali Bennett compared not getting vaccinated against COVID-19 to spraying machine gun fire at innocents, and said a lockdown during the Jewish High Holidays in September will depend on the number of those who do get immunized.
During a Facebook Live question-and-answer session, Bennett said that both the third dose for those over 60 and the shots for unvaccinated teenagers will be critical to avoiding a fourth national lockdown in Israel.
“The future of the holidays depends on the number of vaccinated,” he said. “We’ve ensured a stockpile of vaccines, and thousands of places across the country where you can get vaccinated.”
Bennett noted that there are close to a million eligible Israelis who have not been vaccinated at all.
“When you don’t get vaccinated, you’re endangering yourself, you’re endangering those around you, and it’s life-threatening,” he said, in particular in light of the ultra-contagious Delta variant, which has taken hold in Israel.
“It’s as if you’re walking around with a machine gun firing Delta variants at people,” he said.
Bennett also said Israel was doing the world a “great service” by administering COVID vaccine booster shots, despite the World Health Organization’s plea for a moratorium.
The WHO has called for a freeze on booster shots until at least the end of September in order to address inequalities in global dose distribution.
When asked by AFP about the WHO’s position, Bennett said that Israel was too small to affect global supply, but would contribute to scientific knowledge about the effectiveness of the booster shot.
“In another 10 days we will see the scientific effectiveness of those who received the third vaccine compared to those who didn’t,” the prime minister said, noting that the booster shot will soon be available to those over 50, and to younger populations in the future.
He said that more than 250,000 eligible Israelis have already received their third COVID vaccine dose.
“Israel is going ahead here with something that dramatically contributes to global knowledge,” he said, adding that the knowledge accumulated in the process would be “immediately shared with the entire world”.
“Without us, the world wouldn’t know the exact efficacy levels of the booster shots, wouldn’t know the dates, how much they affect infections, how they affect severe illness,” he said.
“In these aspects, we’re doing the world a great service, and the world is very happy that we’re taking the responsibility and lead on this matter,” Bennett said.
Earlier on Thursday, Bennett met with a group of Israeli social media influencers in order to enlist them to convince vaccine-hesitant teens to get the COVID shot.
“My request is twofold,” Bennett told the group during a meeting at the Facebook Israel office in Tel Aviv. “One, persuade as many young people as possible aged 12 and over to get vaccinated. Two, tell everyone to go around with masks on because this is what prevents infection.”
Bennett lauded the reach and impact of the dozens of Instagram and TikTok stars gathered on Thursday.
“This meeting is dramatic,” he said. “When we leave here today — after I have understood you and you have understood what you can do — your actions today will lead to the saving of lives.”
The prime minister said each of the stars has “the ability to save 30-40 people” with the use of their wide-reaching platforms. “I did not have such an opportunity when I was 16, 17 or 19. I do not remember any such thing. I am now asking you, the Israeli public is asking you, to join in the effort.”
The meeting on Thursday was organized in coordination with both Facebook Israel and the popular gossip Instagram page “Israel Bidur.” Those in attendance included Noa Boguslavsky, considered the most popular Israeli on TikTok with close to 500,000 followers, actor Omer Dror, athlete and influencer Daniel Braun and TikTok and Kan digital star Maya Dagan.
“I intend to give you the tools and the knowledge, and you will know how to use this knowledge,” Bennett told the teens and young adults. “You will save human lives. I do not know what your careers will be in the future. I am a man of faith and you are reserving places in Heaven for having saved human lives.”
While more than 62 percent of the total population in Israel has received at least one dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine, just 42% of those ages 10-19 have gotten the shot. Over the past two months the government has been ramping up efforts to convince teenagers and young adults — the least vaccinated groups in Israel — to get the vaccine.
As of Thursday morning, there were 25,747 active cases in Israel, with 456 hospitalized, 250 in serious condition and 52 on ventilators. Exactly one month ago, there were just 2,634 active cases, 68 hospitalized, 35 in serious condition and 16 on ventilators.