Reporter's Notebook

Care for a shot with your shot? Tel Aviv sets up vaccine station at local bar

As gyms, hotels open exclusively to those vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19, municipality tries to lure the unvaccinated with a cool vibe and free drinks

Simona Weinglass is an investigative reporter at The Times of Israel.

A health worker administers the COVID-19 vaccine to an Israeli at a bar in Tel Aviv, on February 18, 2021. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
A health worker administers the COVID-19 vaccine to an Israeli at a bar in Tel Aviv, on February 18, 2021. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

With two-thirds of eligible Israelis already vaccinated, authorities are stepping up efforts to persuade young adults and those hesitant to get the COVID-19 inoculation to roll up their sleeves.

Earlier this week, the city of Tel Aviv offered free pizza, hummus and knafeh desserts to residents coming in for their first shot. At the same time, the largely ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak has offered residents a hearty dose of cholent — a stew traditionally served on Shabbat — alongside their first dose.

But Thursday and Friday saw Tel Aviv raise the bar — pun very much intended —  setting up a mobile vaccination station at a local pub and offering a free drink to anyone who showed up to get their first injection.

Dozens of young adult residents, as well as a smattering of older locals, gathered outside Jenia Bar off Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square, standing in line to be vaccinated, sans appointment, in a Magen David Adom van parked outside.

Dror Zak, 33, chooses a free drink after being vaccinated at the Jenia Bar in Tel Aviv on Thursday February 18, 2021 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

All Israelis over the age of 16 have been eligible to get the vaccine since February 3. Many of the people who showed up at Jenia Bar on Thursday said they had been hesitant about getting vaccinated, but had been incentivized by the desire to receive a Green Pass — the new government-issued certificate that will give them access to gyms, hotels, culture events and more.

Danny Zak, a 40-year-old owner of a catering business, told The Times of Israel that he thought the media had overblown the dangers of the coronavirus, but he nevertheless decided to get vaccinated because he had suffered the effects of repeated lockdowns on his business.

Danny Zak, 40, of Tel Aviv responded to a text message from the Tel Aviv municipality encouraging unvaccinated residents to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Jenia Bar on February 18, 2021 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

“I am doing this for the sake of my business, to get the certificate that lifts restrictions,” he said. “The last year has been tough, I’ve been living from lockdown to lockdown.”

Starting Sunday, people who present a Green Pass, showing they have received two doses of the vaccine or who have had COVID-19 and recovered, will be allowed to go to gyms, swimming pools, hotels, culture events and places of worship. In addition, malls, stores, markets, museums and libraries will be open to the public at large.

“My mom said to wait before getting the vaccine,” said a 27-year-old employee of an online gaming company who preferred not to give his name, as he waited in line for a vaccine dose.

“But when I heard that they’re opening gyms to people who are vaccinated, that decided it. I really want to go to the gym.”

A health worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a bar in Tel Aviv on February 18, 2021. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Etti, 50, an administrator in a law office who declined to give her last name, said she held back because she didn’t want to be among the first wave of people to get the vaccine.

“This vaccine is new, I wanted to wait and see. Plus, I am afraid of needles. But it’s been two months and I haven’t heard any bad stories. Plus, I want to go to see my parents in Eilat. So I decided to do it. It’s something we all need to do, in my opinion.”

Vaccine hesitancy and skepticism have become a growing concern in recent weeks as Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign has slowed. However, rates have ticked up again this week as ministers approved measures to reopen certain venues to Green Pass holders.

A health worker administers the COVID-19 vaccine to an Israeli at a bar in Tel Aviv on February 18, 2021. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

A Tuesday survey of Israelis who have not vaccinated found that 41 percent said they fear possible side effects, 30% are not sure the vaccine is effective, 27% will vaccinate soon, 10% cited information on social media and 4% said the incentives are insufficient. Respondents were allowed to give more than one answer. About 25% of those who haven’t been vaccinated yet said they had no intention of getting the shot.

Over four million Israelis, or some 45 percent of the country’s total population and two-thirds of those eligible, have now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Health Ministry data showed Thursday. About 2.7 million Israelis have received both doses. Fewer than 2 million eligible Israelis have yet to receive either dose.

Etti, 50, a law office administrator holds a bottle of peach juice after receiving her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Jenia Bar in Tel Aviv on February 18, 2021. (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

Elchai Amram, a 24-year-old musician who has paid his bills over last year by working for a food delivery service, told The Times of Israel that he also hesitated to get the vaccine at first.

“It was strange to me that they developed a vaccine so quickly,” he said.

“There were all kinds of rumors and conspiracy theories. The thing is, over the course of history, many conspiracy theories have proven to be true. But then I decided to do it anyway.”

Amram, who was accompanied by his friend Shay Cohen, 25, a chef, said the ease of getting the vaccine at a local bar made him finally decide to do it.

“We live nearby, there’s an atmosphere here where it’s not overly dramatic. We wanted to get it done quickly,” he said.

Asked what he wanted to do once he is fully vaccinated, Amram replied: “To go to a concert and dance like crazy until I can’t feel my legs.”

“To fly abroad,” Cohen pitched in.

Next to the vaccination van, representatives of Magen David Adom asked patients for their IDs and whether they had a history of allergic reactions before administering the shot.

Elchai Amram, 24, and Shay Cohen, 25, visit the Jenia Bar in Tel Aviv to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on February 18, 2021 (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

Afterward, patients had a choice between a free bottle of beer and a small shot of non-alcoholic peach juice. They were not allowed to sit inside, since restaurants and bars in Tel Aviv are open only on a take-out basis, but had to avail themselves of a bench in nearby Dizengoff Square, where the plaza’s famous fountain spewed fire and water to the strains of classical music by Bach.

Restaurants and nightspots throughout Israel have been closed or partially closed for much of the time over the past year. Imri Kalmann and Hila Formosa-Rafael of Tel Aviv’s Nightlife Association (Bars and Clubs Division) praised the vaccination drive.

“We support the municipality’s initiative to make vaccines accessible to the party-going crowd,” they said in a statement.

“This is our opportunity to return to the normal life that we love so much. We are waiting for the moment when we can be happy and make others happy with another chaser or two — we have missed it.”

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