Science is a complicated business, but some things in the debate over coronavirus vaccines are easily understood – for instance, the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent statements on the issue contradict the conclusions of the world’s most important health agencies and have no scientific basis whatsoever.
Earlier this month, the opposition leader sent a letter to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz urging him to give Israelis aged 50 and over a third dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine starting in August. If we wait, said the man who has a degree in architecture, it “could be fatal and cost many lives.”
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One week later, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control, the agencies responsible for this issue in the United States, released a statement saying the exact opposite: As of now, vaccinated Americans don’t need a booster dose. A decision on whether a booster is necessary will only be made “if and when the science demonstrates that they are needed,” they said.
In Israel, meanwhile, the Health Ministry’s director general said that aside from people with suppressed immune systems, it’s not yet clear when a third dose will be needed.
There’s no way to pretty this up. Here we have the opposition leader, a former prime minister, urging that a medical treatment be given to Israelis even though there’s no scientific evidence it is needed, just to score political points.
Netanyahu said he made his plea following conversations with what he said are “some of the world’s leading experts.” He didn’t mention their names, nor did he say if by any chance those experts were from Pfizer.
The pharmaceutical giant has indeed been claiming that a third dose should be administered as soon as possible. But as one expert told The Washington Post, the company has a clear interest in the matter: Stock market analysts say that a green light for a third dose will boost its revenues by tens of billions of dollars.
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History teaches us that pharmaceutical companies not infrequently exaggerate the efficacy of their products to promote sales. They are commercial entities whose bottom line is important to them. But the expert bottom line is that right now we can confidently say there’s no scientific justification for Netanyahu’s insistence that Israelis start getting booster shots in August.
In contrast, there definitely is a political justification for advocating a booster. The more Israelis believe they aren’t fully inoculated, the more Netanyahu’s achievement in securing the vaccines in the first place and forging ties with Pfizer’s CEO will be remembered and appreciated.
It’s no accident that his ally, Jacob Bardugo (whose degrees aren’t in the life sciences either), has been using his media platform to preach the urgency of a third dose. Just like Netanyahu, he, too, bases his claim on “conversations with many people” whose identity he hasn’t revealed.
The FDA says it will approve a third dose only after scientific studies confirm the need? Nonsense, the former chairman of the national lottery says, “We don’t need a discussion, we don’t need confirmation, we don’t need anything.”
If this is the kind of information that Army Radio listeners are being fed, maybe we should post a warning: Listening to this station between 5 and 6 P.M. may be hazardous to your health.
Oceans of ink have been spilled over the harm done by the lies spread by anti-vaxxers. The problem was so worrisome that even Netanyahu, back when he was still prime minister, urged the public not to listen to their “fake news.” But now, he is disseminating a kind of fake news himself.
Anti-vaxxers urge people not to get vaccinated in defiance of the scientific evidence. Netanyahu is little different in calling for a third dose while ignoring the need for scientific evidence. In so doing, he’s also sowing needless and unwarranted doubts about the effectiveness of the vaccines that have already been administered.
This didn’t start just now. Back in February, Netanyahu invented the claim of “we should expect to have to take new vaccinations every six months.” Why invented? You can understand the entire story from what he said next in that radio interview: “When you go out to vote, ask yourself, ‘Who will get vaccines for me in another six months?’”
Here’s my advice: When you go out to vote, ask yourself who is prepared to lie and distort science in order to win, even if it comes at the expense of the public’s health.
Itay Rom is a journalist with Channel 13 television’s investigative news program “Hamakor.”