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PM aims to be 1st Israeli vaccinated, maybe 1st world leader

Vaccinated Israelis will get ‘green passports’ waiving lockdown constraints

Document showing holder has been inoculated against coronavirus will enable skipping quarantine, access to cultural events and restaurants; may become necessary for travel abroad

An Israeli nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at Sheba Medical Center, central Israel, December 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)
An Israeli nurse seen during a simulated vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, at Sheba Medical Center, central Israel, December 10, 2020. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)

The Health Ministry is planning to issue those who are vaccinated against the coronavirus a “green passport” that will grant a waiver of restrictions applied to curb the virus outbreak, top officials told media in a round of interviews on Sunday.

Among the rights for holders will be access to cultural events and eating at restaurants, and the right to not quarantine after exposure to a diagnosed virus-carrier, they said. It will be issued two weeks after a person gets the second of the two shots required for the coronavirus.

Polls have shown that anywhere from 50 percent and 75% of Israelis say they will refuse to get the coronavirus vaccine shot, apparently out of fears that the rush to produce an inoculation may have compromised its safety. Israel is readying to begin a mass inoculation program next week, with the first vaccinations reportedly to be administered this coming Sunday, December 20.

The green passport would also enable travelers to fly abroad without having to first get a virus test, as is the current requirement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told Channel 13.

Edelstein stressed the idea is not to provide a benefits package for people who get vaccinated but that “those who are no longer in danger of being ill with the coronavirus can do things that others who are still in danger of the virus can’t do.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein gives a press conference at coronavirus vaccine center in Tel Aviv, on December 13, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

“This passport will show that a person is vaccinated and will give a number of advantages such as not needing to quarantine, entry to all kinds of culture events, restaurants, and so on,” Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told Channel 12.

Levy assessed that there will be some form of similar international vaccination card that may offer advantages to vaccinated Israelis who travel abroad.

Government officials see the possibility for international travel as a key incentive for the public to get the vaccination, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Although decision-makers are more optimistic than the polls about public willingness to be inoculated, the green passport is hoped to provide strong motivation, along with the likelihood that some countries will not allow Israelis to visit unless they can show that they have been immunized against COVID-19, the report said, citing government officials.

Chezy Levy, director-general of the Health Ministry, speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus on September 17, 2020. (Flash90)

The Health Ministry will also set up a special command center to counter disinformation on social media about the vaccines, the report said.

The operation will have a dedicated social media team and cooperate with Facebook’s Israel division, as well as the Justice Ministry’s cyber department, to remove problematic posts. In extreme cases, officials may even consider filing a complaint with police if information spread is particularly erroneous and harmful.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the top official overseeing the government’s pandemic response on Sunday said the start of Israel’s vaccination drive would be moved up from its target date of December 27, with Hebrew media reports saying it would begin next Sunday.

“The end of the pandemic is in sight. Until then I ask [everyone] to observe the rules,” the prime minister said during a visit to a mass-immunization station in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu said that he will be the first Israeli to get the coronavirus vaccine.

Speaking to Channel 20 Sunday evening, he said: “The risks in not taking the vaccine are far greater than the risks in taking it, and that’s why I’ll get vaccinated first and I expect everyone to get vaccinated.”

The Kan public broadcaster reported that Netanyahu and Edelstein intend to get vaccinated in a filmed event this Saturday or even earlier. That could make Netanyahu the first world leader to get vaccinated.

President Reuven Rivlin, hospital directors, and the heads of the country’s health maintenance organizations will also be among the first to get the shots. They will be followed by medical workers, with the general public able to get the shots the week after, reports said.

In addition, the health minister’s bureau is preparing a list of media personalities and celebrities to receive the vaccine on camera to set an example for the public, Channel 13 reported.

It also said that senior Health Ministry officials have called for a halt to efforts to develop an Israeli-made vaccine, since “there’s no point in it if we vaccinate several millions [with vaccines already approved] in a few months.”

The network cited officials in the Defense Ministry — whose Biological Institute is developing the vaccine — as being surprised to hear the development through media reports, arguing that there is no reason to scrap all the work that has been done.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in a coronavirus vaccination center in Tel Aviv, on December 13, 2020. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Earlier Sunday, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash said health officials were working to move up the planned date to begin inoculating Israelis with Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine after US regulators gave the inoculation the go-ahead. The vaccine has yet to be approved in Israel, but the director of the Health Ministry has signaled it could be green-lighted in the coming days.

The Maccabi health maintenance organization can begin administering 25,000 vaccines a day by next week, according to Channel 12. Netanyahu has set a target of 60,000 vaccines a day once the drive begins, meaning two million Israelis would be vaccinated by the end of January.

Israel has purchased millions of doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, and the first batch landed at Ben Gurion Airport last Wednesday.

Another flight carrying tens of thousands of vaccines that was scheduled to arrive later this week was delayed by one day.

The expected approval by Israel of the vaccine comes as the country grapples with rising infection numbers, with officials weighing plans to tighten restrictions — and then backing down.

Since the start of the outbreak there have been 356,826 people diagnosed with the coronavirus in Israel, according to Health Ministry figures released Sunday evening, with 1,291 diagnosed the day before.

There are 16,801 active virus patients and 2,996 have died in the pandemic.

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