Mobile vaccination units go to ultra-Orthodox towns in drive

Proposed bill: Public-facing staff must vaccinate or be tested to go to work

Legislation to be initially targeted at teachers, medical staff and police officers but could be extended to other jobs; civil rights group says move would be illegal

An Israeli medic waits during an event to encourage the vaccination of young Israelis at a vaccination center in Holon, Feb. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
An Israeli medic waits during an event to encourage the vaccination of young Israelis at a vaccination center in Holon, Feb. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein will reportedly promote legislation aimed at reducing the number of unvaccinated people in public-facing workplaces by only allowing in workers who have vaccinated, recovered from the coronavirus, or recently tested negative.

According to a report Wednesday by the Ynet news site, the legislation will be promoted in the coming days and is aimed at initially focusing on teaching staff who refuse to get inoculated as children head back to the classroom.

Channel 12 reported Tuesday that, with between 10 percent and 30% of healthcare workers still unvaccinated, Israel is planning on making the inoculation mandatory for them, as are other vaccines.

Although the idea of legislation to compel or encourage people to get vaccinated has been floated in the past, it has previously been dismissed for not having political support or legal standing. However, Wednesday’s report said officials believe it is necessary in order to encourage Israelis who do not intend to get inoculated to reverse their position.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein during a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination center in northern Israel, February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The law will include “restriction on entering the business by an employee who is not recovered [from the virus] or vaccinated, or who did not present a negative result at the workplace, at the place and time to be determined by regulations,” the report said.

The report said that the legislation would initially be targeted at teaching staff, medical workers and police officers, but that the legislation will include the phrase that the regulations “shall be determined with due regard to the scope of the people who come into contact with the employee, their characteristics, the nature of the business and the occupation, as well as taking into account those who have a medical justification for not being vaccinated.”

The report did not give details on what sanctions those who refuse to get vaccinated or tested could face, nor on who would pay for the testing and how often it would be required. In the past Edelstein has said teachers would need to pay for their own tests if they did not get inoculated.

Medical workers test people at a drive-through site to collect samples for coronavirus testing in Lod, on February 2, 2021. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The proposal to compel some workers to vaccinate is expected to face widespread opposition from unions and civil rights organizations.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the proposal was “illegal and infringes on the privacy and choices of the employee.”

Edelstein announced on Wednesday that over 50 percent of Israelis age 30-plus have been vaccinated.

The minister said that around 4,075,000 people have now received the first dose of the vaccine, with about 2,700,000 also having received the second shot.

That amounts to around 44% of the country’s total population having now received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. Around 3 million Israelis are not eligible to be vaccinated, including those younger than 16 and people who have recovered from COVID-19, among other reasons.

A man receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Kfar Chabad on February 16, 2021 (Flash90)

Vaccine hesitancy and skepticism have become a growing concern in recent weeks as Israel’s world-leading inoculation campaign has slowed.

Dozens attended a protest in Tel Aviv on Monday night against “coercion,” a label widely used by anti-vaxxers.

The protest featured a number of people not wearing masks, as well as comparisons between Israel’s vaccination campaign and Nazi laws, with some wearing yellow Stars of David saying “not vaccinated” meant to resemble the ones that Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust.

Israelis wearing yellow Stars of David saying ‘not vaccinated’ protest in Tel Aviv, on February 15, 2021 (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

The Health Ministry is also pushing to amend public health ordinances to allow it to hand over personal data on who has or hasn’t been vaccinated to local authorities and the Education Ministry, in a bid to boost the vaccine campaign, Hebrew media reports said.

Alongside the proposed legal measures, there have been a number of other initiatives to encourage people to get vaccinated, including free food, inoculations performed on forest trails and businesses offering incentives for employees to go and get the shot.

On Tuesday, the Magen David Adom emergency service sent mobile vaccination units to inoculate students studying in yeshivas around the country. A number of yeshivas, where men study at close quarters, some in violation of the regulations, have seen major outbreaks throughout the course of the pandemic.

“If Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohammed,” Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said of the initiative in an interview with Channel 12.

The Magen David Adom mobile vaccination unit inoculates yeshiva students at an unspecified location, February 16, 2020 (Courtesy)

A senior paramedic told the outlet that the unit could inoculate up to 200 people an hour.

One unnamed individual said he hadn’t been vaccinated until now not due to any hesitancy or skepticism, but rather because he hadn’t wanted to make an appointment.

“Now they came to my house,” he said.

The report additionally said that the predominantly ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, one of the hardest-hit localities in Israel throughout the pandemic, had reached a point where 65% of the population was either vaccinated or recovered, slightly lower than the 69% national average. The outlet did not give a source for the figures nor provide a breakdown between the number of vaccinated and the previously infected.

To boost the vaccination rates, the Haredi Lemaanchem medical organization was even going into yeshivas that had seen some of the worst violations and mass gatherings, and setting up vaccination initiatives.

“We want to turn the ultra-Orthodox areas into [low-infection] areas,” said Rabbi Yossi Erlich, the head of the organization.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and his grandson at Yaakov Kanievsky (L) at the former’s home in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Additionally, the vaccination programs received the backing of leading ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, who has previously faced intense criticism for his handling of the pandemic and for rulings given to his followers.

He has instructed schools to open in defiance of government decisions on several occasions, leading hundreds of institutions to illicitly open their doors throughout the pandemic.

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