The Media Line led over twenty years ago in pioneering the American independent news agency in the Middle East, arguably the first in the region. We have always stayed true to our mission: to provide you with contextual sourced and trustworthy news. In an age of fake news masquerading as journalism, The Media Line plays a crucial role in providing fact-based news that deserves your support.

We're proud of the dozens of young students we've trained in our Press and Policy Student Program who will form the vanguard of the next generation of journalists to the benefit of countless millions of news readers.

Look out for exciting new additions as we enter 2022.

We thank our loyal readers and wish you all the happiest of holidays.
The Media Line

Non-profit news needs public support.
Please support us with your generous contributions:
Israel Faces Vaccination Dilemma While Trying To Stop Omicron Spread

Israel Faces Vaccination Dilemma While Trying To Stop Omicron Spread

Israelis pushing back against vaccine mandates and restrictions as new variant threatens

Israel is ratcheting up its efforts to increase vaccination rates among its population, by imposing further restrictions on the public. The move comes as the country tries to stop the spread of omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant. Public outcry on certain restrictions has led the government to back down, as the debate in the country on how to treat the nonvaccinated population rages.

According to data released by the Health Ministry, approximately 90 Israelis have been infected with omicron. In recent weeks, there has been a slight increase in the morbidity rate. Over 8,200 Israelis have died of the virus since the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020.

The government, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, wanted to tighten restrictions on commerce by differentiating between vaccinated and nonvaccinated people.

The plan announced earlier this week would have allowed unvaccinated people to enter shopping malls with limited access to just essential businesses such as supermarkets and pharmacies. Different color bracelets would have been handed out according to vaccination status. This drew widespread criticism ranging from anti-vaccination activists to shopping mall owners who fear their businesses will suffer. Store owners threatened to petition the Supreme Court in an attempt to stop the plan.

While the government ultimately retracted the bracelet plan, it is still intent on imposing restrictions on shopping malls under the Green Pass, which provides proof of vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus. It is unclear how this will be implemented.

The list of red countries Israelis will be barred from travel to also has been extended, going into effect this weekend. The list approved on Wednesday includes Ireland, Norway, Spain, Finland, France, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.

The proportion of Israelis vaccinated is relatively high. When vaccines were approved about a year ago, Israel was a world leader in national inoculation rates. The country was praised globally for its ambitious vaccine drive.

To date, most of the population has received at least one dose of the vaccine. However, over two million Israelis that are eligible for the third booster shot have not received it. Initial data from research conducted in the country show significantly reduced efficacy against the omicron variant without the booster shot.

The number of those not receiving the booster shot increases on a daily basis, as the time from people receiving the second vaccine increases.

According to Professor Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University and head of the Association of Public Health Physicians in Israel, it is mainly people under the age of 50 who have not gone on to receive the booster. The reasons are varied.

“Some people feel that they are safe with just two vaccines and that there is less danger after the fourth wave,” said Davidovitch. “With omicron and the rumors of possible further restrictions, there has been an increase in recent days in people getting the booster shot but it is too soon to tell whether this is a trend.”

The socioeconomic status of many of the people choosing to evade the third jab is critical to understanding the reason for the gap in numbers and could offer pointers as to how to close it.

“The stronger the socioeconomic background, the more people got the booster shot,” he explained. “It has to do with health literacy, the exposure to fake news, access to data, but also to pandemic fatigue.”

With omicron and the rumors of possible further restrictions, there has been an increase in recent days in people getting the booster shot but it is too soon to tell whether this is a trend.

Israelis, like many others all around the world, are tired of living in times of a global pandemic where they are under constant restrictions and uncertainty.

“Certain populations, especially in the social and geographic periphery of the country, need specific targeting to get the booster shot, not just a general directive,” Davidovitch said.

In general, young people feel less at risk from COVID-19, which has been largely labeled as a disease that severely affects the elderly.

At the height of Israel’s fourth COVID-19 wave, the Israeli government undertook a massive vaccination drive and allowed for easier access to vaccinations in city centers and in remote areas. As infections rates went down, the effort waned.

The arrival of omicron, together with the recent approval of vaccines for children from the age of five, has the government pushing again. This week, vaccines were brought to schools, after previously being available at Israel’s four national health maintenance organizations. In Arab population centers, the move brought a major increase in the rate of vaccinated children, which was in single digits prior to the effort. The Health Ministry has launched a major effort to battle fake news with constant monitoring of social media and countering misinformation with answers and official data.

There are still approximately 600,000 Israeli adults who are eligible for the vaccine and have not received even one dose. Davidovitch believes this number can be cut in half, through a concerted national effort.

By imposing new restrictions on commerce, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett seems to believe he can change the numbers; this would involve applying pressure in the form of new and previously unused restrictions.

“Until now, the use of the Green Pass made sense. Restrictions on the number of people and activities that are less essential was logical,” said Dr. Amir Fuchs, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute. “It looks like the current restrictions look to distance from this logic, moving toward trying to make people get vaccinated.”

The closer we get to coercion, the more concerning the situation it is. We should focus on widely distributing information and convincing people, rather than forcing people to do things.

While such restrictions are legal and will likely pass Supreme Court scrutiny, the public discontent has Bennett and his government recalculating their moves.

“Epidemiological reasoning will convince people to get vaccinated, not such moves that will be ineffective,” said Fuchs. “The restrictions seem to be driven by the political level and not by the experts. It makes the restrictions less convincing and less justified.”

Barring unvaccinated people from entering certain stores located in a shopping mall does not distance them from vaccinated shoppers while browsing in the mall itself. For some of the people who are hesitant to get vaccinated, such moves serve as further proof that the restrictions are politically motivated.

The heated debate on virus restrictions before vaccinations were made available has become intertwined with the vaccine debate.

“There might have been criticism on how governments handled the pandemic, especially with regard to infringing on personal rights,” said Davidovitch. “This combined brought to a lack of trust (in the government), which then translated to a lack of trust in the vaccines.”

As there is no major rise in infection rates, there is no sense of urgency in the public. This makes requiring restrictions, and also vaccinations, a tougher sell. Some people may be convinced to get inoculated in order to be less restricted in their daily lives. But, others may feel that the more the government clamps down, the more entrenched they remain in their choice not to get inoculated.

“The closer we get to coercion, the more concerning the situation it is. We should focus on widely distributing information and convincing people, rather than forcing people to do things,” Fuchs concluded.

Give the Gift of Trusted News!

Dear friends,

The Media Line is always there to report to you the stories and issues of the Middle East – completely and in context: TML is the source you can trust.

Know The Media Line to Know The Middle East!

Please support our ad-free, nonprofit news agency. Our seasoned journalists reporting from the Middle East are working day and night during these challenging, yet defining times; and our student interns are honing their knowledge and skills, preparing to emerge as tomorrow’s journalists.

You rely on us and we’re relying on you! Make your online tax-deductible donation here and contact us regarding donations through appreciated stock, donor advised funds, qualifying IRA distributions and other charitable instruments.

Thank you for confidence in The Media Line.
 
Felice Friedson
Founder, President

Invest in the
Trusted Mideast
News source.
We are on the
front lines.

Personalize Your News
Upgrade your experience by choosing the categories that matter most to you.
Click on the icon to add the category to your Personalize news
Browse Categories and Topics
Wake up to the Trusted Mideast News source Mideast Daily News Email
By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.
Wake up to the Trusted Mideast News source Mideast Daily News Email
By subscribing, you agree to The Media Line terms of use and privacy policy.