Defying Health Ministry, Israeli Cities Push to Vaccinate Teachers

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A teacher preparing a school for re-opening in Givatayim, Israel, October 29, 2020.
A teacher preparing a school for re-opening in Givatayim, Israel, October 29, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Municipalites across Israel have preparedd to vaccinate teachers, despite the Health Ministry’s opposition to including educational staff under the age of 60 in the category of people eligible for coronavirus vaccination at this stage of Israel's inoculation campaign.

Since the vaccination drive began last month, several cities have been gathering data on teachers, noting which health maintenance organization they belong to so that they would be ready vaccinate them as soon as possible.

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These preparations have been made in the cities of Givatayim, Rehovot, Ra’anana, Netanya, Jerusalem and Efrat. Petah Tikva, Rishon Letzion, Be’er Sheva and other cities vaccinated teachers over 60, while also collecting contact information to get ready to vaccinate younger ones.

But so far, few cities have vaccinated teachers who aren't part of at-risk groups as defined by the Health Ministry.

Despite their own efforts, officials in several towns criticized Tel Aviv’s campaign to vaccinate teachers, saying it was intended purely for public relations purposes. One official said Tel Aviv’s well-publicized campaign might sabotage other cities’ efforts to prioritize vaccination of teachers.

“When you get things, you have to do it quietly,” the official said. “The goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible.”

The head of Herzliya’s education department wrote an angry message to local teachers saying that the blood of Tel Aviv’s teachers “isn’t any redder,” and that granting them special privileges “has to stop. I urge the Teachers Union to stop discriminating among teachers.”

Several health maintenance organizations confirmed that various towns had asked them to vaccinate teachers, but added that they have no intention of violating Health Ministry orders.

“Even in the case of surplus vaccines, priority will be given to insured patients who meet the criteria set by the Health Ministry – meaning people suffering from chronic diseases or immune system problems,” the Clalit HMO said. Another HMO, Meuhedet, said they wouldn't vaccinate teachers younger than 60 at this point.

But Education Ministry officials criticized the delay in vaccinating teachers, saying the Health Ministry had promised to start doing so at the beginning of this week, but then reneged on that pledge.

Yaffa Ben David, the Teachers Union’s secretary general, sent a letter on Tuesday to the prime minister, education minister and health minister urging them to close schools and preschools immediately.

“Over the past few days, I’ve been contacted by thousands of teachers and preschool teachers who are afraid to come teach, angry at the state’s treatment of them. They feel that their lives and the lives of their loved ones are being held in contempt,” she wrote.

The union declared a labor dispute at the start of last week over its demand that all teachers be vaccinated immediately. “If this problem isn’t solved, we won’t hesitate to take steps, including sanctions and a strike,” Ben David said then.

But for now, the union and the Education Ministry aren’t holding any talks to try and prevent a strike.

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