Guatemala’s Poor Come First

Haaretz Editorial
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Vaccination clinic in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Sha’anan, earlier this month
Haaretz Editorial

Two weeks ago, the Health Ministry made the correct decision from the standpoint of both morality and health when it opened a coronavirus vaccination clinic in Tel Aviv’s Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood for people with no legal status in Israel. The response by asylum seekers and labor migrants greatly exceeded expectations. In its 14 days of operation, the clinic vaccinated 10,500 people.

The vaccinations were like a drop of optimism in the sea of insecurity that has surrounded them since the outbreak of the pandemic. Roughly 80 percent of asylum seekers have lost their jobs, along with the private medical insurance they had while they were employed. Human rights organizations that assist them tell of poverty, distress and longer lines than ever before for food donations. Many asylum seekers haven’t been able to meet their rent payments and have become homeless. “I so hope that the vaccination is the start of our return to the normal world,” Omar Issa, a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Sudan, told Haaretz the day the clinic opened. He had lost his job in a restaurant 11 months earlier.

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But the hopes of Issa and others like him were dashed on Wednesday, when, as Haaretz’s Lee Yaron reported, the Health Ministry decided to stop supplying vaccines to people without legal status. The ministry said it would provide only another 3,000 doses of the vaccine, and therefore the clinic would cease operations next Monday, even though tens of thousands of asylum seekers and labor migrants haven’t yet been vaccinated.

Why did the government decide to stop vaccinating people without legal status? What are the epidemiological arguments for denying the vaccine to tens of thousands of people? The Health Ministry didn’t respond to those questions. Instead, the clinic’s professional staff were told that “the allotment for this population has been used up.”

Technical explanations are the last refuge of scoundrels. “Because the site has exhausted its vaccine allocation of around 10,000 doses, it was decided to end the operation. In light of the high demand, it was decided to allocate another 3,000 doses,” the ministry said, as if it weren’t the one deciding and allocating, the one with the power to decide on further allocations if it so chose. Haaretz’s report on the decision to stop vaccinating people with no legal status caused ministry officials a few moments of embarrassment, and for a moment it seemed they had come to their senses and reversed course. But later on Tuesday, the ministry announced that the clinic would only operate until next Monday.

It’s not too late for the ministry to come to its senses again and announce that anyone without legal status who wants to be vaccinated may do so. Quite aside from moral considerations, leaving tens of thousands of them unvaccinated will also put everyone around them at risk of infection.

If Israel has enough vaccine to send thousands of doses to Guatemala, Honduras and the Czech Republic, it can continue to vaccinate people with no legal status within its own borders.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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