Defending an MK of his party who said publicly that he would not be getting the coronavirus inoculation, Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman falsely claimed on Saturday night that “we do not know anything about the vaccine” and declared that he opposed compelling people to get vaccinated.
His comments, which come amid a slowdown in Israel’s vaccination campaign, drew instant rebuke from health officials who warned that encouraging public skepticism of the vaccine could cost lives.
Asked if he supported the proposal to impose sanctions on people who refuse to be vaccinated, Liberman said such measures went too far.
“You need to get vaccinated but forced vaccination is not appropriate. We do not know anything about the vaccine, I don’t know how long it is effective for,” he said. But, he acknowledged, “There’s nothing better. It’s better for people to go and get vaccinated.”
The Health Ministry is reportedly planning to clamp down on Israelis who refuse to vaccinate against the coronavirus and to impose sanctions on businesses that accept unvaccinated customers.
Officials are looking to limit access to gyms, hotels, restaurants and cultural and sports events for those who refuse to be vaccinated, while the inoculated and those who recently test negative, will be able to enter freely.
Liberman said he wouldn’t support such moves and that it was wrong to punish people for being unwilling to get the shot, including his party No. 4 Eli Avidar, who said on Friday that he would not get vaccinated because he was not in a high-risk group.
Liberman said Avidar should be allowed to believe what he wants.
“He believes in yoga, veganism and sports… The man believes in other things and should be respected,” Liberman said.
Avidar, speaking to Radio 103, said, “I have a lot to say about this campaign that is starting to put pressure on the country and aims to vaccinate everyone who moves, when it should not, and should only vaccinate people in a risk group.”
“I’m telling you I will not get vaccinated and I will also tell you why — I’m not at risk, I’m not afraid, I feel healthy, I’m keeping myself healthy, so why should I get vaccinated?”
Responding to Liberman’s comments, former coronavirus czar and head of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, Ronni Gamzu, rejected the notion that “we do not know anything about the vaccines” and said it was irresponsible to spread such disinformation.
“I know a lot about vaccines; we know the dynamics of the vaccine in the tens of millions have been vaccinated globally,” Gamzu told the Kan public broadcaster. “Maybe MK Liberman doesn’t know much about the vaccine, but science knows.”
“This vaccine works, and it works well,” he said. “Young people who do not feel the disease spread it to people who can get seriously ill.”
The issue of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism is a growing concern as Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign has slowed in recent weeks. Some 3,832,387 Israelis have received the first dose of vaccine and 2,464,280 have received both shots — nearly a quarter of the entire population.
“At the beginning of the [vaccination] campaign we became accustomed to inoculating between 100,000 and 120,000 people per day, and in the last few days we are barely reaching half of those figures,” Kalanit Kaye, the manager of Clalit’s vaccination drive, told the Ynet news site last week, blaming online “fake news” for promoting vaccine skepticism.
Facebook on Tuesday deleted a group with 12,000 members associated with popular Israeli rabbi Amnon Yitzhak that peddled fake news about the pandemic and the immunizations.
The removal of the group from the social media platform came after the Health Ministry reportedly asked Facebook to take down the posts of anti-vaxxers bragging about their exploits.
The social media giant has pledged to keep anti-vaxxers and those spreading fake vaccination information off its platform. Also last week, Israeli media reported that the claims of another popular, anti-vaccination rabbi were fueling fears of the coronavirus shot in Israel and had been blamed by health officials for a slowdown in the country’s vaccination campaign.
Facebook on Monday said it was ramping up efforts to stem the worldwide spread of misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, spread facts, and figure out who might be wary of getting the shot. The move includes banning groups that repeatedly spread misinformation and debunked claims about the virus and vaccines.