For a significant percentage of the Israeli public, the fear of being vaccinated against the coronavirus is greater than the danger of the virus and its broad social and economic consequences.
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A recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute indicates that 52 percent of Israelis are unwilling to be vaccinated during the first cycle. Only 21 percent replied that they were definitely ready to be inoculated when the vaccine arrives in Israel, while 19 percent said that they would agree to be vaccinated. The rest said responded that it was difficult for them to say. The survey, which sampled over 600 people, also shows that the fear of being vaccinated is more common among women than among men, and more among young people than older ones.
The survey is not the only one attesting to a relative high percentage of people afraid to be vaccinated. A broader survey conducted from late July through August by researchers and doctors from the Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya, which sampled almost 2,700 subjects, including 900 health workers, showed a significant negative response to getting inoculated – both among health care workers and the general public.
That survey showed that only 49.6 percent would agree to be vaccinated when an approved vaccine is available. Among health workers, the percentage was 60.2 percent.
The survey also attempted to assess the public attitude toward the vaccine, their sources of information and their confidence in the leadership when it comes to the vaccine. The findings attest to confusion, lack of information, fear and lack of confidence.
For example, 82 percent of the subjects said that they rely on the recommendations of the World Health Organization more than on those of the Israeli local authorities and government. Of the people polled, 87 percent replied that they would prefer a vaccine developed in the United States or England over one developed in other countries (excluding Israel) such as China or Russia. Respondents also feared that the vaccine would be unsafe rather than being concerned with its effectiveness.
“We see a decline in acceptance compared to the previous survey. It may be related to timing, context and the situation at the time,” said Dr. Amiel Dror, a doctor and researcher in the Galilee Medical Center and the Bar-Ilan medical school in Safed, who was in charge of the surveys. “The survey was held before talk of a second lockdown, and the atmosphere was better.”
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He said that the survey clearly indicates that when it comes to the vaccine, the public relies more on large organizations such as WHO or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration than on decision-makers or politicians who are not medical professionals. “One of the prominent examples was President Donald Trump’s medical recommendations throughout the crisis, which had a negative rather than a positive impact, and that’s an important message for the world: Let the professional health organizations do their work and don’t involve unrelated groups – that’s likely to cause damage,” says Dror.
“We saw that many people form their opinion about the vaccine based on what they see on social media,” he said. “That means we need more authorized information and campaigns to prevent teenagers and young people from being drawn into conspiracy theories on the internet.” When asked about whether he plans to be vaccinated, Dror replied: “It’s important to give a personal example. As soon as it’s possible I’ll run to be vaccinated.”
Insufficient or low response to the vaccine is already preoccupying the Health Ministry, and will be taken into account when preparing the vaccination campaign. In the case of COVID-19, it will be particularly challenging because the vaccines were developed through an unprecedented, expedited procedure and information about their long-term effects and the duration of their effectiveness is still lacking.
The Health Ministry has sponsored vaccination campaigns in the past. In 2013, when there was an outbreak of polio, the ministry invested a great deal of effort to eliminate the opposition to it in various regions and among various communities. In 2018, when Israel had an outbreak of the measles due to low vaccination rates in certain areas, the ministry again instituted a vaccination campaign.
The coronavirus crisis differs from these situations, as does the way the COVID-19 vaccine was developed. The ministry is expected to invest efforts in “carrot” campaigns of encouragement, PR and access to information, even giving incentives for those who are vaccinated if necessary, and will not resort to a “stick” of legislation or sanctions. Whatever the case, it’s already clear that the public response to being vaccinated is a significant challenge that will be addressed in the coming weeks.