Israel's Education Ministry Demands Names of Teachers, Students Who Got COVID Vaccine

Attorney general okays giving COVID information to the ministry, while Health Ministry opposes move over privacy concerns

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Coronavirus vaccinations being carried out in Rehovot last week. The subjects have no connection to the content of the article.
Coronavirus vaccinations being carried out in Rehovot last week. The subjects have no connection to the content of the article.Credit: Hadas Parush

The Education Ministry is insisting on obtaining the names and identifying details of teachers and students who have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, but the Health Ministry is blocking transfer of this information out of concern over invasion of medical privacy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intervened, asking the Health Ministry to transfer the data. The move was legally sanctioned by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who said at a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet that the issue does not require new legislation and that there was no legal obstacle to providing the data.

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According to sources at the Education Ministry, it requested the information last month to establish it they had to focus on disseminating information about the vaccine to teachers. These sources said precise data would clarify how many teachers had been inoculated and where the ones who hadn’t been vaccinated teach.

The data could be analyzed in terms of location, age group, communities and local authorities. These sources said that the information would enable the ministry to decide whether a school where someone contracted the virus could be opened.

Rules relating to privacy regulate the transfer of information between public agencies, subject to the law. A public agency sending or receiving information is obliged to set up a committee charged with approving requests for information and defining who is allowed to view the data and the method of transfer.

According to Health Ministry sources, this committee dealt with and approved the Education Ministry’s request, but the transfer was blocked by the head of health services at the ministry, Dr. Sharon Elroi-Preiss, who opposes this and has used her authority to block it.

Due to the dispute between the two ministries, the issue was sent to the Justice Ministry for sorting out. The legal brief approved the transfer of information only for the purpose of breaking the chain of infection, not for disseminating information.

The Education Ministry will obtain the names of teachers and students who have been inoculated, and only when someone at a school is infected will the ministry contact the principal and update him or her on which teachers and students must stay away until the contact tracing is completed. This will show principals who at their school is not immune to the virus.

According to sources in the Justice Ministry, transferring this information will significantly impact the privacy of teachers and students, but the special circumstances override the principle of protecting people’s privacy. Information will only be disclosed when someone contracts the virus, which will limit the invasion of privacy and ensure that the data is used only for the purpose for which it was collected.

The delay in transferring the data, despite the legal brief prepared by the Justice Ministry has led Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to intervene and ask the Health Ministry to comply. Health Ministry sources say that the Justice Ministry seeks to change the legislation as a condition for transferring the data to the Education Ministry.

Local authorities are also collecting data on teachers who have received the vaccine, using questionnaires. The chairwoman of the department for kindergartens in the teachers’ union, Anat Dadon, has instructed kindergarten teachers not to cooperate with the demand of their local authorities to report whether they have been vaccinated.

“I unequivocally determine, after seeking legal advice, that this demand is illegal,” wrote Dadon. “There is no obligation to report this, not to a local authority or to anyone else. You’re allowed to maintain your right to privacy on medical issues. The decision whether to get vaccinated is a private matter that should be decided without unwarranted pressure.”

The Health Ministry said in response to this story that “the issue is under discussion, in an attempt to find a way of transferring the computerized data correctly. The education and health ministries have been fully cooperating for months to transfer the data in a secure and smart way.”

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