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Health minister: Fake news about virus vaccine could be deadly

As disinformation proliferates about safety of inoculation, Edelstein says vaccine has been ‘tested in every possible way,’ urges public to trust experts

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein gives a press conference at a coronavirus vaccine center in Tel Aviv on December 13, 2020. The slogan behind him reads: "Here, we're beating coronavirus." At right is Maccabi health fund head Ran Saar. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/Pool)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein gives a press conference at a coronavirus vaccine center in Tel Aviv on December 13, 2020. The slogan behind him reads: "Here, we're beating coronavirus." At right is Maccabi health fund head Ran Saar. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90/Pool)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Wednesday criticized Israelis who spread fake news and unverified claims about coronavirus vaccines, saying it could cause people to die if they take their advice and refuse to vaccinate.

At a briefing at the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, Edelstein said he didn’t have any worries regarding the safety of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

“They have been tested in every possible way,” he said. “Top doctors whom I talked to are confirming their safety.”

Edelstein said he had no concerns about the logistics either.

Boxes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the Pfizer Global Supply Kalamazoo manufacturing plant on December 13, 2020 in Portage, Michigan (Morry Gash – Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

“My main task is to fight fake news over the next weeks and months,” he said. “I have seen lately that all sorts of people, including Knesset members, are starting to spread fake news, talk about ‘dangerous vaccines’ and call on people not to vaccinate.

“These people have no ounce of responsibility. If you don’t want to vaccinate, don’t vaccinate. But don’t go into fields in which you don’t understand and don’t spread such things. You might cause someone to hear that nonsense, not vaccinate and die. Not every headline or article should get attention.”

The mention of Knesset members was an apparent reference to Yisrael Beytenu MK Eli Avidar of the opposition, who last week said he wouldn’t vaccinate because that should be reserved right now only for at-risk populations. He protested a rumored intention that the government intends to legally mandate vaccination — officials have said there’s no such intention — but he didn’t allege that the vaccine isn’t safe.

Edelstein promised his ministry would closely monitor the health of every vaccinated person and inform the public.

“We won’t give the Israeli public any vaccine that we don’t trust 100 percent,” Edelstein concluded.

An Israeli nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Amid the start of immunization efforts, health officials have expressed concern about public reluctance to be immunized.

With Israel gearing up to begin its mass vaccination program as early as next week, a new poll published Tuesday has found that less than a fifth of the population is willing to get inoculated immediately, with significant gaps existing both between men and women and between Jews and Arab Israelis.

According to the survey conducted by the University of Haifa and overseen by its Prof. Manfred Green, an expert on public health policy, only 20.3 percent of Israeli Jewish respondents and 16% of Arab Israeli respondents said they would be willing to be among the first to take the vaccine.

Broken down according to gender, 27.3% of the Jewish men and 22.8% of Arab men said they would like to be vaccinated immediately, compared to only 13.6% of Jewish women and 12.2% of Arab women.

The Israeli public’s attitude towards vaccination, however, appears to change dramatically over the long run with a total of 58.6% of Jewish men and 41.2% of Israeli Arab men indicating that they would be willing to take the COVID-19 shot after thousands had been vaccinated, compared with 41.4% of Jewish women and 25.2% of Israeli Arab women.

In fact, tens of thousands have already been vaccinated during the Phase III trials of the vaccines, which led them to be declared safe, in addition to those vaccinated already in countries that have started their inoculation programs.

Illustrative: A man receives a swine flu vaccine at a medical center in Jerusalem, December 20, 2009 (AP Photo/Dan Balilty)

The poll, which surveyed 900 respondents aged 30 and over, found that 7.7% of Jewish men, 29.4% of Arab Israeli men, 17.2% of Jewish women, and a striking 41.2% of Arab Israeli women would refuse the vaccine “under any circumstances.”

Previously published polls have shown that 50 to 75 percent of Israelis are leery of getting the coronavirus vaccine shot.

Top ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky, Gershon Edelstein and Shalom Cohen recommended Tuesday that their communities vaccinate against the coronavirus.

Israel is taking delivery of millions of vaccine shots, beginning with the Pfizer inoculation, which has been approved for use in the US by the FDA.

The Health Ministry on Monday told health maintenance organizations that Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination drive will kick off next week, with members of the general public to begin receiving vaccinations on December 23.

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