Tel Aviv plans to open a special compound in the coming weeks for vaccinating most of the city’s asylum seekers against COVID-19.
Tel Aviv is home to about 34,000 asylum seekers over the age of 40, meaning they are in the age group eligible for vaccination in the general population, and about 14,000 of them have been vaccinated so far – many of them caregivers and nursing home workers.
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The municipality said it hopes to take advantage of the current national lockdown, as a vaccination drive could be made more difficult once many asylum seekers return to work. The vaccine doses will come from the inventory of the city’s Ichilov Hospital.
The city is preparing for the possibility that information about the campaign will also reach asylum seekers living in other cities in the area, and is expecting to vaccinate tens of thousands of asylum seekers from Tel Aviv and other cities. The compound will be opened in the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, with ten stations where about 2,000 people a day can be vaccinated.
The step is being taken in coordination with the Health Ministry and according to its vaccination policy, which maintains that only those aged 40 and over may be vaccinated. The municipality opened testing stations in neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv with relatively a high population of asylum seekers to encourage testing. Information was provided via community and religious leaders. These methods will now also be used to encourage vaccination.
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Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who initiated the move to vaccinate asylum seekers, is currently involved in an election campaign as leader of his newly formed The Israelis party. Recent weeks have seen several disputes between Huldai on one side and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on the other regarding the mayor’s independent pandemic policy, and in light of the criticism he has leveled about the government’s handling of the crisis.
Netanyahu and Edelstein were angered by the campaign earlier this month to vaccinate all teaching staff in Tel Aviv. A subsequent disagreement broke out over his initiative to renew cultural activities in the city, under restrictions, for citizens who had already been vaccinated.
Huldai told Haaretz on Tuesday that the goal is to close the gap in vaccination rates between asylum seekers and other residents. “They’re infecting others and becoming infected like anyone else,” he said. “It’s clear that it’s the right thing to do and I’m glad that the Health Ministry acceded to our request. The state will fund the campaign, Ichilov [Hospital] will deal with the vaccinations themselves and the municipality will deal with all the surrounding aspects, including convincing the people to come and be vaccinated.”