Israeli Decision Makes COVID Vaccines Off Limits to Thousands of Foreign Residents

Some 10,500 migrant workers and asylum seekers have been vaccinated against the coronavirus in the past two weeks at a Tel Aviv facility, but the Health Ministry is set to limit inoculations there to second doses only

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Patients waiting to be vaccinated this month at the Tel Aviv vaccination center for foreign migrant workers and asylum seekers.
Patients waiting to be vaccinated this month at the Tel Aviv vaccination center for foreign migrant workers and asylum seekers. Credit: Hadas Parush
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Tel Aviv facility where foreign migrant workers and asylum seekers have been receiving coronavirus vaccinations this month will stop administering the shots to new patients as of Tuesday and will only be providing the foreign residents second vaccine doses, the Health Ministry has decided. The decision leaves tens of thousands of foreign residents who do not have official status in Israel without a way of getting vaccinated.

The Tel Aviv facility was opened two weeks ago in the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood and has since inoculated 10,500 foreign residents. The turnout for the coronavirus vaccine there has been brisk and the number of people vaccinated there has increased from about 700 per day on the first day that it opened to a peak of 950 on Monday of this week. The ministry said that new patients would be accepted there through Monday of next week, after which only those receiving a second dose would be accommodated.

The ministry did not provide a formal explanation for the change, but on Wednesday said that “the site had reached a vaccination allocation of about 10,000 vaccinations, and it was decided to conclude the activity. In light of the high demand, it was decided to allocate approximately an additional 3,000 vaccines.”

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In response to an inquiry from Haaretz, the ministry said that “continued vaccination will be considered in accordance with the supply of vaccine.”

On Tuesday, Haaretz reported that a surprise decision had initially been made to halt work at the vaccination center as of Wednesday of this week. Sources told Haaretz at the time that the ministry had said that the allocation of the vaccine for the foreign population had run out.

Following the Haaretz report, however, the ministry reconsidered and said vaccinations there would resume on Thursday, until at least Monday. The ministry then announced the final decision to administer only second doses as of next Tuesday.

Foreign residents without official status in Israel will also be able to be vaccinated on Thursday of this week in the north at the Haifa Municipal Theater, between 2 P.M. and 7 P.M.

Officials were unable to provide the exact number of foreign residents without official status in Israel who have not been vaccinated so far. According to the Population and Immigration Authority, there are about 100,000 foreign workers in Israel who are in the country with work permits and another 17,000 in the country with expired permits. There are about 30,000 asylum seekers and another 60,000 foreign tourists who have remained in Israel after their visas expired.

That would suggest that the total foreign population without official status is 208,000. Of that population, about 130,000 to 150,000 have health insurance and can get vaccinated through Israel’s four health maintenance organizations. Based on the figures, Physicians for Human Rights estimates that there are at least 50,000 to 60,000 foreign residents without official status and without insurance who so far could only be vaccinated at the Neveh Sha’anan facility.

“We were pleased to hear about the reopening of the vaccination center for those without official status, but we continue to be very bothered by the updates when it comes to its continued operation,” said Dr. Zoe Gutzeit, the director of the migrant and refugee department at Physicians for Human Rights.

The Tel Aviv vaccination center for foreign workers and asylum seekers.Credit: Hadas Parush

“The additional allocation of 3,000 vaccine doses that we have been informed about is not sufficient to vaccinate most of those without official status or insurance. According to our assessment, this population includes tens of thousands of men and women who have not managed to get vaccinated, some of whom are elderly or pregnant women,” she said.

“Such a limited allocation will expose both them and [those] around them to the risk of infecting and being infected,” she said. “In addition, we are bothered by the implications of depriving those without official status of the capacity to reintegrate into the workforce. Communities of those without official status have been critically hurt by the wave of layoffs in the economy. Making the vaccines available to them is as essential as the air they breathe.”

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