As Vaccination Rates Among Israeli Arabs Increase, So Do Coronavirus Cases

Experts say fake news-driven vaccine hesitancy and the U.K. COVID variant have been driving infection rates among Arab communities in past weeks, and hospitals are feeling the strain

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Preparing a dose of the coronavirus vaccine in Arara, in the Negev, last month.
Preparing a dose of the coronavirus vaccine in Arara, in the Negev, last month.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Even though more Israeli Arabs are getting vaccinated, the past two weeks have seen a consistent increase in coronavirus infection in Arab communities.

According to figures released on Sunday evening by the Arab community's COVID-19 emergency committee, last week there were 4,423 new coronavirus cases in Arab communities, excluding mixed Jewish-Arab cities – an increase of 500 from the preceding week.

The committee's figures show that there are 7,521 active cases in Arab towns. There are 147 patients in serious condition, 48 of whom on ventilators. Over 478,000 Arab citizens have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine – 90,000 more than the previous week, marking a 53 percent increase. About 255,000 members of the community have received the second dose.

Dr. Mohammad Khatib, an expert in public health at the Zefat Academic College, explains that most of the newly infected people were not inoculated, a fact that attests to the effectiveness of the vaccine. However, he said, “We’re seeing an increase in the number of infections, mainly among young people.” He attributes the rise among this demographic to the more contagious U.K. COVID strain.

In Negev communities, the percentage of Arab citizens getting inoculated is low, ranging between 20 and 40 percent. Dr. Naim Abu-Freha, the head of the Arab Doctors Association of the Negev, said that as more people contracted the coronavirus over the past two weeks, more people are going out to get vaccinated.

He stressed that 45 percent of the Negev population are under 16 years of age and therefore cannot be inoculated, so the target is to vaccinate 50 percent of the population. "The disinterest [in getting vaccinated] is mostly connected to fears that stem from fake news," he said, "like the idea that the vaccine harms fertility."

Prof. Nihaya Daoud of Ben-Gurion University's public health department stressed the importance of promoting the vaccine among economically disadvantaged segments of the population or among those who are unable to access the vaccination centers. A study she conducted recently shows that the vaccination rate is dozens of percentage points lower in economically weaker communities, compared to wealthier ones.

Western Galilee Hospital in the northern city of Nahariya also felt the spike in infections this week. The hospital recently reported that its coronavirus wards saw an increase of tens of percentage points in admitted patients, particularly over the past weekend. Last Wednesday, there were only 32 patients in the wards – the lowest number in recent months – but by Saturday, there were 50 people there, 31 of them in serious condition. Of those patients, 33 were Arab.

“Just last week, we closed one coronavirus ward and it seemed that things were improving, and now we're seeing a worrisome increase," said the hospital's director, Prof. Masad Barhoum. He said that an outbreak in nearby villages brought more patients to the medical center, as well as five women in labor. "We must remember that we're approaching the Ramadan, Passover and Easter holidays, and after that comes the wedding season."

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