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Poll: Most Israelis say they won’t be first to try a coronavirus vaccine

Israel Democracy Institue survey shows older people keener than the young, men more willing than women; assesses public may be getting used to living under virus conditions

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Syringes labeled as containing COVID-19 vaccinations in Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Syringes labeled as containing COVID-19 vaccinations in Jerusalem, November 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Just over half of Israelis do not want to be among the first people to be given a coronavirus vaccine when the immunization shots eventually become available, according to an Israel Democracy Institute survey published Tuesday.

Asked if they would be willing to get the first round of jabs of a vaccine, 52 percent said that they would not be. Only 21% responded they are sure they would want to be given the vaccine early, and another 19% said they think they would.

Tamar Hermann, director of the IDI’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion Research and Policy which carried out the poll, assessed the attitude may be because “we have learned to live alongside the coronavirus to such an extent that most of the public is not in a hurry to be among the first to be vaccinated when a vaccine becomes available.”

There has been a spike in expectations that a vaccine may be available by early next year, after three bodies working on inoculations all recently announced that human trials have shown their vaccines are at least 90% effective.

Israel has signed agreements with various companies to obtain final product vaccines including deals with the US-based firms Moderna and Pfizer, both of which are conducting Phase 3 trials. In addition, Russian researchers are also in Phase 3 trials for another vaccine product, which Israel has said it may be interested in.

More men than women were positive toward early vaccination, the survey found. Among men, 47% were either sure they were willing or thought they were, but just 33% of women said the same.

People wearing face masks walk on in downtown Jerusalem on November 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Older people were also more likely to agree to go first, with 45% of those over 55 having a positive attitude, 44% among 35-54 year-olds, and just 31% among 18-34 year-olds.

The IDI said that could be because older people feel more at risk, or because they have greater faith in science and less opposition to vaccines in general.

There is less fear among the public of catching the virus: While 68% said they fear that they or someone in their family will get sick, a month ago the figure was at 74%.

Among the ultra-Orthodox, a community that was hard-hit by the virus, just 50% said they now fear infection. Arab-Israelis, who are now suffering higher infection rates than the national average, are more fearful now (74%) than a month ago (69%).

Looking forwards, 59% said they are concerned about their financial future, though there was a significant gap between the Jewish and Arab communities. Whereas 55% of Jews expressed concern, a full 81.5% of Arabs said the same.

Among both Jews and Arabs, younger people tended to be more concerned with their financial future. While just 43% of Jews above the age of 55 and 69% of Arabs in the same age group were concerned, in the 18-34 age bracket the concerns jumped to 64%% and 82% respectively. The IDI said that was down to workers who have already established themselves being less concerned about temporary influences on finance.

Higher wage earners were also less concerned (39%) than those whose earnings are below average (67%.)

Overall, 55% were optimistic that Israeli society can recover from the crisis. Among the Arab community, 47% said they were optimistic, but that compared with just 28% in September. Among Jews, 57% were optimistic compared to 48% in September. Last month saw optimism about the country’s recovery at its lowest level among both Jews and Arabs since the start of the virus outbreak in March.

“There is a trend in the Israeli public of a certain calm in the context of the epidemic and even higher optimism than in previous months regarding the state’s recovery capacity from the crisis in which it finds itself,” Hermann said.

“This may be a result of reports of advances in the scientific effort to develop a vaccine against the [coronavirus] or of the relatively low numbers of recent infections and deaths,” she continued.

Israel Democracy Institute researcher Tamar Hermann (video screen capture)

Right-wing voters tended to be more hopeful, with supporters of the nationalist Yamina party 85% optimistic that Israeli society can recover. At the other end of the scale, of those who voted for the centrist Blue and White party in the last election, just 38% were optimistic about the chances of recovery.

Respondents were less upbeat about how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is handling the virus crisis, with 37% having faith in his leadership. That compared with 31% a month ago and 27% in September, but a high of 57.5% in April.

The government policy of fining those who don’t follow orders appeared to be working with 32% saying they keep to health rules out of fear of fines, compared to 15.5% in April. However, whereas in April 54% kept to the rules because they feared infection, by November just 35% gave that as their reason.

The internet and phone survey was conducted between 12-15 November and questioned 607 Hebrew speakers and 152 Arab language speakers. The poll had a 3.7% margin of error, the IDI said.

There are 8,052 confirmed active cases in the country according to Health Ministry figures released Tuesday evening, with the total tally since the start of the pandemic at 325,355. There were 861 cases confirmed Monday and 413 by 6 p.m. Tuesday, according to the ministry.

The death toll was at 2,736.

Israel sharply brought down its daily coronavirus infection numbers from some 8,000 in mid-September to several hundred by late October, with a nationwide lockdown, its second since the start of the pandemic.

The lockdown paralyzed much of public life and the economy and shuttered the entire education system. The government began removing some restrictions a few weeks ago, opening preschools and kindergartens, then grades 1-4, as well as permitting some street-front businesses to begin operations. The rest of the education system has continued with remote learning.

Strip malls were permitted to reopen Tuesday, and grades 5-6 were expected to return to school on December 1.

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