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Police start probing anti-vaxxers encouraging public to fake appointments

Cops say scheduling vaccinations only to cancel them at last minute, forcing HMOs to toss doses, is a ‘serious and dangerous phenomenon’; officials say incidents not widespread

An Israeli receives a vaccine injection at a Clalit COVID-19 vaccination center in Holon on February 4, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)
An Israeli receives a vaccine injection at a Clalit COVID-19 vaccination center in Holon on February 4, 2021. (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

Israeli police are weighing opening a criminal investigation into anti-vaxxers who have been scheduling appointments to inoculate only to cancel them at the last minute, forcing HMOs to throw out unused doses.

A law enforcement official told Channel 12 on Friday that police were in the process of gathering information from Facebook posts and TV interviews and checking to see whether those who called on the public to make fake appointments also did so themselves.

“We are investigating the criminal and legal implications of the matter,” a senior police official told Channel 12. “This is a serious and dangerous phenomenon and the matter is under investigation.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday that the phenomenon is limited, but those trying to disrupt the vaccination drive were “a dangerous group who are ideologically opposed, like a cult.”

One Israeli hospital chief called the phenomenon “criminal” in an interview with Channel 13.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein receives a coronavirus vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan on December 19, 2020. (Amir Cohen/Pool/AFP)

But while the issue has made waves in the media, healthcare providers appear less concerned. The Meuchedet HMO did not have any information to provide on the matter, and Clalit and Maccabi representatives told the network that they did not notice any out of the ordinary trends.

At Leumit, roughly 400 people didn’t arrive to scheduled first doses, but the provider did not attribute the matter specifically to the phenomenon being probed by police.

There are several dozen anti-vaxxer activists that have led a campaign on social media encouraging others not to inoculate, Channel 12 said.

On Thursday, Channel 13 reported that the Health Ministry has also 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 but is failing to do.

“If everyone who does not plan on getting vaccinated makes an appointment to vaccinate and then doesn’t come, we’ll finish the stock (in the trash) really quickly. Just saying,” read one post on Facebook.

A balloon store owner said he would give discounts to those who are not vaccinated, in response to government proposals of similar benefits that will be available to those who are inoculated.

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