Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s opposition to vaccinating children against the coronavirus in schools impedes efforts to end the pandemic. To hold a meaningful discussion on whether the schools are an appropriate venue for giving the vaccine, two basic assumptions must be made: Vaccinating as many children as possible is in the common interest, and this is the right way to reach herd immunity and bring Israel out of its current wave of infection.
In fact, children in Israel have always received a variety of vaccines in schools, at different ages. Students are routinely inoculated against influenza, chicken pox and HPV, for example.
The social argument for in-school vaccination is to reduce inequality, as not all parents have the ability or awareness to take their children to a clinic to be vaccinated. The education minister’s claim that giving the vaccine in schools increases social pressure and is a crime implies that vaccinating children against the coronavirus is controversial. Her distinction between giving this vaccine and the vaccine for the seasonal flu or tetanus in schools implies that she doesn’t trust the COVID-19 shot.
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After all, some of the vaccines that are given in schools today are “controversial,” such as the one against HPV, which is transmitted during sexual activity and is given in eighth grade. No one has ever claimed that there is social pressure around this vaccine. And in any event, parents can refuse to have their children vaccinated by filling out a form that is sent to all of them.
The argument that children must be protected from social pressure and should not be vaccinated in school is an odd one if you take into account everything they’ve been through in the past year and a half (lockdowns, illness, absences due to the fighting with Gaza in May) and consider what’s at stake: a greater chance of them and their family members becoming infected and enduring prolonged and recurrent isolation or quarantine.
In addition, Shasha-Biton’s distinction between education and health is an artificial one. Is it proper education to disconnect children from the pandemic that’s affecting their life and that of their family? Is it even possible to do this?
And what could be more educational than caring about the health of students and the entire public and making the vaccine more accessible to everyone?
Instead of opposing vaccination in schools, Shasha-Biton should prepare her ministry for a school vaccination campaign and make information on the coronavirus vaccine more accessible so that as many children as possible will be immunized and Israel will take a giant step toward herd immunity.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.