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Edelstein: Health ministry determines vaccination priorities

Human rights groups petition High Court to force Israel to vaccinate inmates

Public security minister says prisoners will only be inoculated when more Israelis get vaccinated; Israel Medical Association: Country has an ‘ethical obligation’

Hadarim Prison in the Sharon area, central Israel, on July 23, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Hadarim Prison in the Sharon area, central Israel, on July 23, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Five human rights groups petitioned the High Court Sunday against Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s decision not to vaccinate prisoners in Israeli jails until a greater number of Israelis have been inoculated.

The petition, filed on behalf of ACRI, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, Adalah, HaMoked and Rabbis for Human Rights, demanded that the Israel Prison Service “vaccinate the entire prisoner population according to the vaccination priority set by the Health Ministry, with an emphasis on prisoners aged 60 and over, and those in a high-risk group,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

“According to professional sources, prisoners are an at-risk population and action must be taken to vaccinate them in parallel with the at-risk populations at large,” the petition stated.

The petition also demanded that the IPS “prevent prioritizing the vaccination of prison staff over the prisoners.”

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana holds a press conference in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (FLASH90)

Last month, Ohana instructed prison officials not to begin vaccinating inmates against COVID-19 until further notice, after a Palestinian official said that security prisoners were expected to soon begin getting shots.

A December 26 statement from Ohana’s office said he’d ordered the IPS to only vaccinate prison staff at this stage and that prisoners shouldn’t be given vaccines without permission.

Ohana, a member of the ruling Likud party, issued the statement after Qadri Abu Bakr, the chairman of the PLO’s Prisoners Affairs Commission, said the prisons service had told Palestinian prisoners that they would start to be vaccinated.

Last week, Ohana told the attorney general’s office that he did not intend to withdraw his directive, despite Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari saying the order “was given without authority, and thus cannot stand.”

The petition was accompanied by a medical opinion from the Association of Public Health Physicians from the Israeli Medical Association that said: “Prisoners must be treated as a captive population. In the context of COVID-19, this is considered an at-risk population, both due to preexisting health issues and to the overcrowded conditions that increase the risk of infection and mortality.”

According to the medical association, “the State of Israel has an ethical obligation to offer the vaccines to the prisoner population.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein applauds as a man is vaccinated at an eldercare facility in Sha’arei Tikva, December 22, 2020 (Health Ministry)

Responding to the petition, Health Minsiter Yuli Edelstein appeared to contradict Ohana, telling the Kan public broadcaster Sunday morning, “The only body that determines the immunization arrangements is the Priority Committee [of the Health Ministry].”

Israel is currently pushing ahead with its vaccination campaign, starting to administer second doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to the public Sunday, precisely three weeks after it began its national inoculation drive.

Welcoming the start of the new stage in the campaign, Edelstein said that 1,817,000 people had been vaccinated in Israel so far, out of a population of 9.29 million — by far the highest vaccination rate in the world.

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