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'They mustn’t be abandoned in last chapter of pandemic'

Germany funds plan to help Holocaust survivors around world access vaccines

Claims Conference isn’t providing COVID shots, but will aid 190,000 survivors with booking and provide transportation with medical assistance to the housebound

Nathan Jeffay is The Times of Israel's health and science correspondent

Illustrative: A Magen David Adom worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Holocaust survivor Yaffa Balaban, 95, at her apartment in Beit Tovei Hair retirement residence in Jerusalem on January 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Magen David Adom worker administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Holocaust survivor Yaffa Balaban, 95, at her apartment in Beit Tovei Hair retirement residence in Jerusalem on January 26, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A non-profit has secured $13.5 million from the German government in order to offer every Holocaust survivor help with the logistics of accessing a coronavirus vaccine.

The Claims Conference won’t be providing vaccines. But with the newly secured German funding, it is offering some 190,000 survivors around the world free help with the often daunting task of booking their appointment when it becomes available and with transportation.

The organization is aiming to phone the 190,000 people — every Diaspora-based Holocaust survivor who was persecuted because they have Jewish lineage — within a few months, and has already started the calls.

A key part of the service involves education on the benefits of vaccines, for which phone operators invoke the success of Israel’s inoculation drive, Greg Schneider, Claims Conference executive vice president, told The Times of Israel.

The Claims Conference negotiates reparations, restitution and other compensation claims on behalf of victims. Its new program comes on the heels of an initiative in Israel to provide transportation for survivors to and from vaccination clinics. In Israel, as per the plan for abroad, full medical teams were offered to survivors who are housebound and need oxygen or other support to leave home.

Hatzalah medics take an Israeli Holocaust survivor to a vaccination station (courtesy of the Claims Conference)

“We have seen in Israel how this type of assistance can make the difference in getting this life-saving vaccine,” said Schneider. “In the case of someone who is homebound it’s not just a matter of having the vaccine, we must find a way to get the survivor to the vaccination location.”

Many survivors are homebound and need special ambulance services to get to and from clinics, and large numbers will want help navigating the booking processes, Schneider said.

“Israel is now in the very last stages of vaccinating the elderly, but in the United States there are still lots of people who need help, and in the Ukraine, where there are 12,000 survivors, none have yet been vaccinated, and many will need assistance.”

Greg Schneider, the executive vice president of the Claims Conference. (Uriel Heilman/JTA)

“What we’re doing is to apply the experience from Israel, and our work helping survivors there, to 40 countries across the world.”

He said the logistical challenge is less dizzying than it seems, as the Claims Conference already helps with home care of many survivors, through agencies in various countries, and will commission them to provide the necessary assistance. More funding will be sought if demand is high, he added.

“Holocaust survivors have been [an] inspiration in their resilience through the pandemic. Many are capable of securing an appointment on their own, but others don’t or can’t travel there. They mustn’t be abandoned in this last chapter of the pandemic,” he said.

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