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Israel media review

The pass is always greener: What the press is saying about needling the shot-shy

Israel is hard at work trying to vaccinate the last hardy holdouts against the coronavirus, amid worries that sanctions won’t be legal and incentives won’t work

People enjoy a park in Ashdod on February 14, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
People enjoy a park in Ashdod on February 14, 2020. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

1. In a prickle: As Israel’s coronavirus vaccination drive crawls toward the milestone of 4 million people jabbed, the media conversation has increasingly turned to those who are not lining up to get a shot and what to do with them.

  • One idea mentioned in several press reports as being pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be legislation to allow local governments to get the names of people who are not getting vaccinated.
  • Haaretz accuses Netanyahu of trying to “ram through” the legislation, and cautions against it. “It’s not even clear whether the proposal will end with giving local governments the names or whether these governments will follow up by trying to get people to change their minds. Bulls shouldn’t be brought into china shops, and that’s exactly what Netanyahu’s proposal to the cabinet does. Haste is from the devil, so legislation that needs to be intelligent and effective should never be pushed through in haste,” jurist Mordechai Kremnitzer writes for the paper.
  • Channel 12 news, which describes a “blitz” to reach the vaccine refusers and stick a needle in their arms, notes that Netanyahu’s proposal is on shaky legal ground. “If you want to harm privacy rights, you need to explain what you hope to accomplish,” lawyer-doctor Maya Peled Raz tells the channel.
  • Channel 12 also reports that the Health Ministry is considering a campaign of just calling the holdouts and annoying them into getting vaccinated, which Peled Raz says would be fine by her. “If it makes them uncomfortable, that’s also okay; it’s a more gentle form of encouragement.”
  • AP writes about the Health Ministry command center playing “whack-a-mole” with conspiracy theorists: “The ministry manages a command center with 11 trackers who monitor social media activity for anti-vaccination posts in Hebrew, Russian, Amharic, Arabic and English on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Telegram. The center is adding more staffers in the coming days.”
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth, Sever Plotzker writes that nothing is stronger than peer pressure, and Israel should be harnessing that to get everyone vaccinated, giving those who don’t serious FOMO. “The most important channel for peer pressure is the media. Stories about vaccine refusers are not legitimate and not appropriate for wide public consumption, even if it is to argue with them and put the fake ‘truths’ they hold against scientific truth.”
  • But what to do when a refuser is a member of Knesset, as is Yisrael Beytenu’s Eli Avidar. If you are party head Avigdor Liberman, the answer is apparently to back him up, say nobody knows anything about the vaccine, and take some flak for it.
  • “Maybe MK Liberman doesn’t know much about the vaccine, but science knows,” former coronavirus czar Roni Gamzu tells Kan.

2. Don’t let the green pass fool you: Israel Hayom is apparently ready to move on, running a front page on Monday that crows about “the easing set to begin,” and a column from Prof. Arnon Afek contending that Israel should give up and not plan on vaccinating everybody.

  • “To force the whole population to vaccinate is impossible and not smart, as it could spark antagonism and opposition and lower the number of people getting vaccinated. There’s no reason to give benefits to those who choose not to vaccinate, and there’s moral justification to leave them out of the relaxation of restrictions that will be given to those vaccinated with the gradual opening of the economy,” he writes.
  • The paper, which is closely linked to Netanyahu, who happens to be running for re-election on the strength of his handling of the crisis, is filled with pictures of happy vaccinated people ready to get back to normal life. “We’re really hoping to be able to sit together for Passover,” one mom tells the paper.
  • In Yedioth Ahronoth on Tuesday, Sarit Rosenbloom calls plans for the reopening “dangerous” especially given the fact that not enough people are being vaccinated. “Unless there’s a change, you’ll be sitting with your family on Passover in lockdown, not the Seder,” she writes.
  • Kan reports that disagreements still remain over when the relaxation of restrictions should begin, and that while malls and other places will supposedly only be open to those with a green “I got vaccinated” pass, police won’t be the ones kicking anti-vaxxers out.
  • “The police say it’s the responsibility of business owners and the police will only get involved if there are specific instances of suspicion of fraud,” it reports.
  • Former Health Ministry public health chief Sigal Sadetsky tells Army Radio that she doesn’t think the scheme will work: “The ‘green pass’ is barely practicable. A guard at a store can’t separate a vaccinated mom and her kid. It seems easy to send someone to isolation, and it’s a fact Israel failed at it. I don’t know what makes us think this time will be different.”
  • Channel 12 news writes that there is a “record” number of people forging “recovery” certificates to avoid being vaccinated, which is kind of a no-duh given that this has never been an issue before.

3. It works! At least the vaccine seems to work. “The vaccine works,” reads the top headline of Yedioth on Monday, touting results from the Clalit health care provider that show 92% effectiveness after studying 1.2 million vaccinated Israelis.

  • Dr. Leana Wen tells CNN that the Israeli study results are “really important.”
  • “You want to make sure that the study results that we initially were seeing in tens of thousands of people is reflected when the population is in the millions,” she says.
  • Army Radio reports that in the military, where some 80% of soldiers have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, infections are dropping rapidly. As of Tuesday, there are under 1,900 active cases in the army.
  • Walla reports that army medical officials believe it’s not only the vaccines, but also the fact that the military stayed separate from the general population, and that units strictly enforced isolation and social distancing, though anyone who has seen an army unit might find that hard to believe.
  • Tel Aviv Prof. Jonathan Gershoni writes in Walla that those who fear that the vaccines are causing the mutations, or making the virus more resistant, have it backwards, with the mutations only made possible by the wide spread of the disease, which can be clamped down by an equally wide spread of the vaccine. “It’s important to remember that the more we as a society vaccinate, the more chances of new mutations will shrink.”

4. Israelis pinned down, but judokas fly free: Despite all the vaccinating and opening going on, oodles of Israelis are still stuck abroad due to the government’s decision to shut down the airport. Adding salt to the wound is the fact that hundreds of non-Israeli judokas are flying in for an international tournament, with no requirement to isolate, so long as they test negative.

  • Amid a growing outcry, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tells Army Radio and Kan that the approvals were given long ago, when the infection rate was “totally different and the skies were open.” Seems there’s no way anyone could have foreseen the infection rate going up ever again, and as everyone knows, once Israel gives someone a visa to enter the country, it can never ever ever be revoked for any reason.
  • He does also admit that the judo-fest worries him, and if they asked now, he might not approve the event.
  • “I am really against it. I think it is a mistake,” Dror Mevorach, head of Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital’s coronavirus department, tells Radio 103FM.
    Aryeh Zimmt, an Israeli stuck in Zurich, tells Yedioth that he is trying to get home to help his wife, who works at a hospital, but has gotten no answer from the panel supposed to give okays to Israelis who need to fly home. “How have they forgotten Israelis abroad? They allow athletes to enter without quarantine no problem, and I’m stuck as an Israeli,” he fumes.
  • “The flight ban is a dumb way to prevent the spread of COVID and comes at a needless cost to travelers,” writes Meirav Arlosoroff in Haaretz. “Israel seems intent on reinventing the wheel rather than learning from the successes of others. The Health Ministry is threatening to extend the flight ban unless some way is found to enforce quarantine rules. … No matter; aviation industry sources say Ben-Gurion will fully reopen in another two weeks without any controls. Why? Because hundreds of shohatim (ritual slaughterers) need to travel abroad to help ready enough meat for the Passover holiday and because it will help Netanyahu’s election campaign.”
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