Israel’s vaccination campaign began well and looked promising. The government hoped to complete giving both of the two required doses to five million Israelis by March. And in fact, since the campaign began, 3.3 million people have gotten the first dose, with 1.9 million of them having received the second dose as well. This puts Israel at the top of the global vaccination tables.
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But over the last few days, there has been a slowdown in the pace of vaccinations, which is currently less than half of the health maintenance organizations’ capacity.
The primary cause of this slowdown was foreseen – young people feel less threatened by the pandemic. When they do a cost-benefit calculation in which the risk of being infected by the coronavirus is weighed against the risk of injecting foreign substances into their bodies through a vaccine that was developed relatively quickly, at a time when new variants have emerged that may well reduce the vaccine’s effectiveness, the conclusion reached by people in this age group isn’t unequivocal. Nor is this problem confined to Israel alone.
But alongside these considerations, the slowdown is also due in part to the dissemination of fake news – reports that are erroneous, unverified, outside the scientific consensus and, above all, irresponsible, yet are circulating freely on the internet, and sometimes even in parts of the mainstream media. These are causing real damage.
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Consequently, one can understand why the Health Ministry has decided to invest millions of shekels in an advertising campaign whose purpose is to fight this fake news.
Explanatory campaigns and making the vaccine more accessible might help a lot among population groups with particularly low vaccination rates. For instance, only 19 percent of the Arab community has been vaccinated, compared to 41 percent of the general population, in part due to fears about the vaccine.
These fears must be dispelled by every possible means, from making information available to constant dialogue with Arab mayors, religious leaders and doctors – which is exactly what the coronavirus czar, Dr. Nachman Ash, has done this week.
But alongside better communication and public relations, it’s necessary to seriously consider increasing the benefits conferred on people who do get vaccinated. The current situation, in which someone who has received the second dose receives only an exemption from quarantine in certain cases, isn’t enough to motivate people to get vaccinated.
One possibility is turning the “green passport,” whose significance is currently very limited, into something much more significant by adding new benefits – for instance, granting entry into crowded venues that are likely to open in the coming months, such as cultural and sporting events, parks and museums. As an official at the Maccabi HMO put it, “The way to get a 25-year-old guy who feels safe and no sense of obligation to go get vaccinated is through the right that vaccine gives him to enter a soccer stadium.”
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.