Education Minister Can't Block COVID Vaccinations in Schools, Israel's Attorney General Says

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Youth being vaccinated in Holon, last month.
Youth being vaccinated in Holon, last month.Credit: הדס פרוש
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Schools will be able to conduct a mass vaccination campaign despite the education minister's disapproval, according to a special directive currently being drawn up by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

The directive is being prepared in conjunction with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who wants to use it to circumvent Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s objection to vaccinating children at school. The Justice Ministry believes Shasha-Biton is not authorized to block in-school vaccination of children whose parents agree to have them vaccinated during school hours.

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The National Health Law assigns responsibility for providing health care services in schools to the health minister. However, the law, which specifies the services that can be provided in school, hasn’t been updated for several years and includes no reference to the coronavirus vaccine. This makes the special directive necessary.

The directive is based on the Public Health Ordinance from the British Mandate period, whose Clause 20 authorizes the health minister to declare an infectious disease a threat to public health, thus giving the government broad powers to combat it.

Additionally, Mendelblit said on Tuesday that he would support a joint proposal by the health and education ministries that in “red” cities with high rates of infection, any 8th- to 12-grade class with a vaccination rate of less than 70 percent would have to learn remotely.

However, the Justice Ministry this week stated that, in general, Green Pass restrictions cannot be applied to schools – meaning that being vaccinated or presenting a negative coronavirus test cannot be made a condition for attending school – noting that no country in the world has set such conditions.

Ministry officials said there was a legal difficulty in denying a child his right to an education because his parents refused to vaccinate him, or force him to take a coronavirus test. However, it was agreed that this was not a problem under the 70 percent proposal described above, since under that plan remote learning would be applied to all pupils in a certain area, without distinction, depending on the prevalence of infection in that area.

It should be noted that during the measles outbreaks of 2019, Mendelblit allowed drastic steps to be taken against children who were not vaccinated. He approved the legal opinion drawn up by the Health Ministry’s legal adviser that permitted the ministry’s district physicians to keep unvaccinated children out of school and to give the schools information about pupils who hadn’t been vaccinated. Hundreds of unvaccinated children were thus kept out of school.

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