Health Ministry Pushes Legislation to Bar Unvaccinated Israelis From Certain Jobs

Legislation comes amid other measures by Ministry to compel Israelis to get the coronavirus vaccine, despite calls against mandatory inoculation

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A medical professional prepares to administer a second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a man at a coronavirus vaccination center in Tel Aviv, last month.
A medical professional prepares to administer a second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to a man at a coronavirus vaccination center in Tel Aviv, last month.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

The Health Ministry is advancing a bill to prevent employees from going to work in certain jobs unless they’ve been vaccinated.

The law will not specifically say for which types of workplaces it is valid, and leave it to the ministry to draw up detailed regulations.

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Ministry sources said these regulations are intended to target employees whose job involves great public exposure, such as teachers, medical workers, public transportation workers and police.

The wording of the measure as reported Wednesday by Yedioth Ahronoth is in the preliminary stages and has been handed over to the Prime Minister’s Office. The intent is to require employers to deny entry to any employee who doesn’t produce a vaccination certificate, a certificate of recovery or a very recent negative coronavirus test. The measure faces many legal hurdles and its chances of passing at this stage are unclear.

The option of imposing restrictions on Israelis who aren’t vaccinated was discussed before the vaccine campaign began, amid fears at the time that the public might not respond well. But it was set aside early on due to legal complications. The ministry felt at the time it would be preferable to exhaust the options of explaining why the vaccine is important by means of positive measures, such as providing a green passport to permit those who are vaccinated to visit shopping centers and places of entertainment including sporting and cultural events.

A coronavirus vaccination center in Herzliya today.Credit: Hadas Parush

At the start of the vaccine campaign the ministry’s director-general, Prof. Hezi Levy, and the head of public health, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, said that getting the vaccine would not be mandatory:But the ministry wants to differentiate between forcing people to get a shot and imposing sanctions against those who don’t, although the restrictions are aimed at forcing people to get the vaccine. For this reason it is anticipated that civil rights groups will challenge such legislation in the High Court of Justice.

Health Ministry data published on Wednesday found that more than four million citizens had received a first shot and 2.7 million of them had also gotten the second shot. A report by the Center for the Fight against Coronavirus published on Wednesday found that 12 percent of people aged 30 and over have been vaccinated. Israel is waiting for the results of a Pfizer trial with 12 to 15 year-olds. An encouraging result for such a trial would allow the widening of the circle of immunization in Israel, which is currently limited to people age 16 and over.

On Wednesday the Health Ministry distributed the first draft of a bill that would allow it to transfer to the local authorities and the Education Ministry data about the identities of Israelis who have still not been vaccinated. The draft was sent to government ministries for comments. The Health Ministry wants to pass the bill in the Knesset as a temporary order of limited duration.

According to the latest proposal, this information would be used to help the authorities locate people who have not been vaccinated and to encourage them to get vaccinated, by providing transportation and other assistance.

The Health Ministry's director-general would also be able to request from public bodies contact information for people who have not come to be vaccinated and who have not been contacted, in order to try and locate them.

“The Health Ministry will not require local authorities to perform concrete actions [to encourage vaccination],” the explanatory material attached to the bill says. “The use of this information for other purposes will be prohibited and instructions will be determined regarding permission to access the data, preserving its confidentiality and erasing it when it is no longer needed.”

The draft of the bill also establishes various safeguards to prevent the data from being exploited. The workers who receive the data will be obligated to sign a pledge to preserve confidentiality and not collect data on people they know. The draft says that a worker who received the information and contacted a person to encourage him to get vaccinated “will not link vaccination with the exercise of authority or providing of services toward that person by the receiver of the data.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that he intended to bring a “lightning bill” before the cabinet to allow local governments to procure the names of citizens who haven’t gotten vaccinated. The coronavirus cabinet decided that evening that the Health and Justice Ministries would present the necessary amendments to a Knesset committee so the measure could go to the plenary. Cabinet ministers approved ways to keep the names of people who don’t vaccinate from being published, and to prevent these details from falling into unauthorized hands.

Haaretz reported on Tuesday that the Education Ministry was demanding to see the names and other details about teachers and pupils who have been vaccinated, but the Health Ministry had blocked the transfer of such information for fear it would violate people’s medical privacy. Netanyahu intervened to ask the Health Ministry to supply these details to the Education Ministry.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel strongly criticized the draft bill. Unlike the Patient’s Rights Law, which only permits the transfer of sensitive medical information with the patient’s consent, the new draft law would not require prior approval.

A man contemplates the sea in Zikim, in southern Israel, today.Credit: Ilan Assayag
'Bye corona.' Coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash celebrates during a vaccination drive in Holon, on Tuesday.Credit: Hadas Parush

“Infringement on privacy and medical confidentiality is very serious, and the precedent of transferring medical information without consent to other authorities is dangerous. Special, very serious justification is required for this and no such justification exists,” ACRI attorney Gil Gan-Mor wrote to Uri Schwartz, the Health Ministry’s legal adviser.

“Transfer of data from the treating party to other parties such as local authorities and the Health Ministry creates a danger that the data will leak or be leaked or be used in unacceptable ways,” Gan-Mor wrote. “The data could lead to public shaming of citizens or employees, possibly even to harassment in the workplace or in obtaining municipal services. Bear in mind that the local authority is also an employer of dozens, sometimes hundreds of workers.”

The Justice Ministry’s Privacy Protection Authority said it opposes the bill. “This is an unnecessary bill that inseriously fringes on the right to privacy.”

Netael Bandel contributed to this report.

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