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Teachers Union spars with health minister over vaccine rate, school reopening

Edelstein says just 34% of education workers have been immunized; union head claims figure is actually 76.3% and accuses him of ‘incitement’

An Israeli teacher receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Shamir Medical Center in Be'er Ya'akov, December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)
An Israeli teacher receives a COVID-19 vaccine at Shamir Medical Center in Be'er Ya'akov, December 30, 2020. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

A spat broke out Tuesday between the Health Ministry and the Teachers Union over the vaccination rate among education workers, with each side accusing the other of presenting inaccurate information to a Knesset committee.

The argument has far-reaching consequences for kids and parents, since the vaccination rate is a key factor in the decision on when to reopen the education system.

Israel has recently opened vaccination to teachers and other education staff members of all ages, deeming them at high risk of catching the coronavirus due to their constant work with children under the age of 16, who are getting infected at an increased rate and the vast majority of whom are unlikely to be vaccinated in the near future.

During a discussion at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, citing ministry figures, said that just 34 percent of education staff members have been vaccinated.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during a visit at the Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital in Jerusalem, on July 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The consequences of that go without saying,” Edelstein said, hinting that the education system should not be reopened at this time.

Yaffa Ben David, who heads the Israel Teachers Union, presented a very different figure and accused Edelstein of “incitement.”

“The source of the Health Ministry data isn’t clear to us,” she said. “In a survey we conducted in recent days with 19,361 respondents who are members of the union, 76.3% said they have been vaccinated.”

She said the survey also showed just 18.5% said they haven’t been vaccinated, and some 5% have previously contracted the coronavirus.

However, Hebrew-language media noted that the union’s survey didn’t use a representative sample and its statistical validity is in question.

Secretary-general of the Teachers Union Yaffa Ben-David attends the Knesset Education, Culture, and Sports Committee meeting ahead of the opening of the new school year, August 5, 2019.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But the union argued that the ministry figures were also inaccurate for allegedly only surveying state workers and not examining those over 60 who got the vaccine before the campaign to inoculate teachers began.

“The Health Ministry is again looking for scapegoats,” Ben David charged. “The ministry is inciting against education workers and trying to cause parents to point fingers at the teachers and kindergarten staff. I strongly object to that.”

Edelstein’s office commented that “the Health Ministry doesn’t work according to exit polls, it works with the real-life results. Unfortunately, the ministry’s data points to a very low willingness to vaccinate among teachers. The health minister calls on everyone to go get vaccinated.”

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