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Education minister revises comment branding COVID-19 shots in schools a ‘crime’

Shasha-Biton says initial statements opposing vaccines during school hours were ‘too harsh,’ vows to ‘unreservedly’ help Health Ministry implement inoculation plan

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton at a handover ceremony at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton at a handover ceremony at the Education Ministry in Jerusalem on June 14, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton on Saturday walked back comments she made last month calling the idea of vaccinating students in schools a “crime,” saying that she would help implement the program set to be administered by the Health Ministry.

In an interview with Channel 12’s “Meet the Press,” Shasha-Biton, who has clashed with other government officials over the administration of shots in schools, conceded that she should have used different language.

“I used too harsh a word,” she said when asked if she was wrong to have used the word “crime.”

“The word choice was not successful, but I was addressing the emotional distress of parents and children, which is serious,” she added.

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash signed a directive last week ordering schools across the country to allow vaccinations to take place on their premises during school days, seemingly ending a protracted fight with the education minister over the matter.

The directive instructs heads of educational institutions to allow Health Ministry teams to enter during school hours and administer vaccines to willing staff and to students over the age of 12 who have written permission from their parents to get inoculated.

Illustrative: Preparations for the new school year at the Gamla elementary school in Katzrin, northern Israel, on August 22, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Shasha-Biton said on Saturday that she would “unreservedly” help implement the plan. Despite her initial opposition to the proposal, she voted earlier this week in favor of opening schools on September 1 under the vaccination program.

The discussion over the reopening of the school year had seen a fierce debate between Shasha-Biton and Health Ministry officials, marked by a series of anonymous attacks in the media on the education minister, branding her a “coronavirus denier.”

Some officials had been pushing to delay the start of the school year by a month as the Delta variant has sparked a resurgence in serious virus cases, but with COVID-19 infection rates once again moving in a positive direction, the Health Ministry is now expected to recommend opening the school year on September 1 as planned, according to several television reports Friday night.

According to Channel 12 news, Ash views the declining rates as a direct result of Israel’s vaccine booster campaign, with third shots so far given to some 1.9 million people.

A man in his 30s receives a third COVID-19 vaccine dose, at a vaccination center in Jerusalem, on August 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Forecasts presented to health officials point to the number of seriously ill dropping from some 700 to 500 by mid-September — a huge turnaround from predictions earlier this month, before the booster campaign entered full swing, that the country could see some 2,400 serious cases by mid-September.

The latest data released by the Health Ministry showed that 8,482 new infections were recorded on Friday, with an additional 5,635 cases identified by Saturday morning, taking the number of active cases in the country to 81,217.

Of the 703 people who were seriously ill as of Saturday, 153 were on ventilators, according to Health Ministry figures. In total, there were 1,120 people hospitalized with COVID-19.

The number of people who have died of the disease since the onset of the pandemic rose to 6,950 on Saturday.

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