Tel Aviv Launching COVID Vaccine Campaign for Asylum Seekers

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A Clalit Health Maintenance Organization nurse fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine in Tel Aviv last week.
A Clalit Health Maintenance Organization nurse fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine in Tel Aviv last week.Credit: Moti Milrod
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and Ichilov Hospital will on Tuesday launch a campaign to vaccinate asylum seekers and migrant workers, who are ineligible for vaccinations through the health maintenance organizations.

During the first stage, the vaccination center in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood, located on 6 Hagalil Street, will be able to vaccinate over 600 people a day, and will eventually be able to handle 2,000 people daily. Those coming to the center need not be residents of Tel Aviv; the employees there will not be checking addresses.

The center will have 14 vaccination booths that will be manned by Ichilov staffers, and will be open from Sunday through Thursday between 10 A.M. and 6 P.M., and Fridays from 9 A.M. to 2 P.M. The center is open to the entire foreign population aged 16 and over.

The statement issued by the city and the hospital explicitly states that those coming to be vaccinated will not be questioned by the immigration authorities.

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The Physicians for Human Rights organization had contacted the Health Ministry several times over the past two months asking it to find a way to vaccinate those without residency status who do not have health insurance through the HMOs, which are conducting Israel’s vaccination campaign.

“Just as the coronavirus doesn’t distinguish between a resident and a migrant, or between a citizen and a refugee, it is proper to apply the national vaccination campaign to everyone who lives in Israel, even if they aren’t citizens, and even if they are not HMO members due to decisions by the sovereign that block them from being so,” the organization wrote to the ministry. In the end, the municipality announced at the end of January that it would set up the vaccination center.

The only way those lacking legal status in Israel can get health insurance is if their employers take out private insurance for them. But many of those lacking status were fired during the pandemic, leaving them without that coverage.

This means there are tens of thousands of people in Israel who have no access to health services. Moreover, those without status are not eligible for unemployment payments.

Human rights groups have been reporting a rise of dozens of percentage points in the number of requests for help with food, goods for children and rent among those without status.

Zoe Gutzeit, director of the migrant and refugee department at Physicians for Human Rights, said the organization, “welcomes the start of the vaccination campaign and hopes that indeed, as the Health Ministry promised, the vaccination compound will be open to anyone lacking status or health insurance, regardless of their religion, color, gender, type of visa or lack of one.

“We know that much effort was invested in setting up the mechanisms that will allow those lacking status to get the vaccine,” said Gutzeit. “Everyone would have been spared these efforts if policymakers had allowed those lacking status to be insured and get health services from the HMOs in the first place.”

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