Bus company removes advertising campaign by group against vaccinating children

Health officials objected to posters on Dan buses that discouraged parents from vaccinating their children as shots become available for those aged 5-11

An Israeli health worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine shot against Covid-19, at a health clinic in Katzrin, on November 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
An Israeli health worker prepares a coronavirus vaccine shot against Covid-19, at a health clinic in Katzrin, on November 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The Dan Bus Company announced Sunday it was taking down an advertising campaign on its vehicles that discourages parents from vaccinating their children, following a backlash by health officials.

The campaign, organized by a group of physicians called the Israeli Public Emergency Council For The COVID-19 Crisis, was plastered on dozens of buses reading: “Would you vaccinate him just to go to the movies?” and “Only parents decide on coronavirus vaccines for children.”

The group has previously been vocal in decrying the policy of imposing virus restrictions, and its publications have gained traction among anti-vaccination activists.

The Ynet news site reported that the group of physicians has close ties with anti-vaccine activists, and those against COVID-19 vaccines for children in particular.

The bus company said it removed the banners in accordance with its current advertising policy, as “the advertising platform on the buses is intended for advertising products and services and not for managing campaigns.”

Health officials stressed that parents could choose whether or not to vaccinate their children and that the reason the vaccine is recommended is to protect children from illness, not so they can go to the movies or restaurants.

“It’s because children can become ill and sick children is not a good thing. The vaccine can also prevent them from PIMS (pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome) and long COVID,” Prof. David Greenberg, head of pediatrics and the pediatric infectious diseases unit at Soroka University Medical Center in Beersheba, told Ynet.

The sponsor of the campaign said it was “proud of the thousands of activists that contributed and joined the bus campaign,” saying it was intended to “raise health awareness.”

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged parents to vaccinate their children when the coronavirus inoculations become available to kids aged 5-11 later this week, warning that Israel was facing a possible virus outbreak among the younger population.

“We are on the verge of what appears to be a wave of illness affecting children,” Bennett said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“In recent days, many vaccines for children have arrived in Israel, ahead of the children’s vaccination campaign that will begin this week,” he said, calling the vaccinations the “safest and most effective way to keep our children healthy.”

On Saturday, a shipment of around one million vaccine doses was dispatched from Leipzig in Germany and landed at Ben Gurion Airport. It was then taken to Israel’s central distribution point in the city of Modiin. From there, the doses will be sent to vaccination centers across the country, with vaccinations set to be administered starting Tuesday.

On Friday, Bennett pledged “total transparency” on the matter of inoculating children.

“I know there is a certain sensitivity around this matter. There are a lot of people who are afraid to vaccinate children, and they are not necessarily ‘anti-vaxxers’ or those who buy into conspiracy theories,” Bennett wrote in a lengthy Facebook post.

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 12 years old sits ready for use at a vaccination site in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 11, 2021. (LM Otero/AP)

“My answer to these concerns: Total transparency,” he said.

Speaking Sunday morning to the Kan public broadcaster, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public services at the Health Ministry, estimated that “around half” of parents would currently not want their children to be vaccinated.

“It makes sense that part of the population is undecided and wants more data,” she said.

She warned that the virus can still affect young children even if it is less dangerous to them than it is to the older population.

“It is true that it is more harmful to adults, but it can cause serious illness in children as well. Both during the illness itself and in the side effects afterward,” she said.

Israeli approval of the shot for children came days after the United States Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccine authorization for the 5-11 age group.

So far, more than 2.6 million children in the United States have been given the shots, meaning that around 10 percent of children there have now received their first dose.

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