Coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said Wednesday that Israel should weigh introducing a national vaccine mandate compelling all citizens to get themselves inoculated against the coronavirus, a notion that mirrors legislation under consideration in several European countries.
“I think we need to examine all the options, including the option of mandating vaccination in the State of Israel,” Zarka told Radio 103FM in an interview.
Zarka stressed that the opinion was his alone and not that of the Health Ministry.
“This option of mandating a vaccine in the State of Israel, similar to several countries in the world, whether in the context of legislation or in the context of other means, must be examined, it must be considered,” he said.
He said that a relaxed approach to inoculation in Israel threatened the ongoing success of the swift vaccine campaign introduced earlier this year.
“The approach in Israel, unlike some countries in the world, is more enabling, more inclusive, gives more time to let people make their decisions. It comes at a price,” he said.
“There are 680,000 people in Israel who have not been vaccinated at all. We are constantly trying to reach them,” Zarka said. “It is quite clear to me that they are not vaccine refusers, but looking at what happened to us in the fourth wave of epidemic, which hit the unvaccinated more than others, one has to consider how such people will be vaccinated.”
He nonetheless stressed that there would be no “surprise” legislation forcing vaccination.
“I am not familiar with any legal work on the issue. There is no legislative process or legislative work on the table. We are not at the practical level that today a law is going to suddenly be introduced in order to require vaccines,” he said.
However, Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin told Army Radio that he believes vaccine mandates are the preserve of dictatorships.
“I do not think there is a state that acts like this, except for dictatorial states,” he said. “It is possible to encourage vaccination or give a negative incentive to the unvaccinated, but not to obligate it by law.”
So far, the Vatican alone has imposed a full vaccination mandate but it appears set to be joined by several other European nations.
Last month, Austria announced it would make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory starting February. The country had already imposed movement restrictions on those not vaccinated or recently recovered from the virus, becoming, in early November, the first EU country to order them to stay at home.
Greece has announced mandatory shots for over 60s, with unvaccinated people facing fines if they don’t comply.
And Germany’s next chancellor said Tuesday that he will back a proposal to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for everybody next year.
In Israel on Tuesday, days after he called for mandatory vaccinations to combat the pandemic, MK Yuval Steinitz requested the Knesset Guard investigate violent threats against him from anti-vaccine activists. Steinitz, a former energy minister who is in the opposition with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, expressed support for mandatory vaccinations, backed up by fines for those who refused, in media interviews earlier this week.
Out of a population of 9.4 million, 5.7 million Israelis have received two vaccine doses, and 4 million have had a third booster shot, according to Health Ministry data.
Israel rolled out vaccinations for children aged five to 11 last week, one of only a handful of countries to inoculate minors that young.