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Public Distrust Could Hamper Israel’s Vaccination Drive (with VIDEO)

Public Distrust Could Hamper Israel’s Vaccination Drive (with VIDEO)

While most Israelis are getting the jab, spread of fake news and conspiracy theories lead to some refusals

While most Israelis aged 60 and older are rushing to receive the coronavirus vaccine, others are refusing to do the same as conspiracy theories and fake news spreads online.

Israel has already vaccinated nearly 15% of its 9.3 million-strong population in two weeks, far outpacing other countries around the world. More than 1.5 million Israelis – mainly those over 60 years old or with underlying health issues – have received the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine.

Despite the dizzying pace of the inoculation drive, virus cases continue to skyrocket and the country is slated to enter its third full nationwide lockdown on Friday. Hospital chiefs have already warned that the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic may be the worst one yet.

Nevertheless, some Israelis are hesitating to go and get vaccinated, citing everything from conspiracy theories about Bill Gates culling the global population to unfounded concerns about serious side effects.

“I’m personally against the Pfizer shot and the shot from Moderna because it hasn’t been checked and there are a lot of side effects,” Rachel, a 68-year-old Jerusalem resident, told The Media Line at the Mahane Yehuda Market. “First of all it goes into the brain and down the spinal cord. It causes paralyzation [sic] and we have feedback; we have the proof.”

When asked, Rachel declined to share said proof. She said that she believes the Pfizer BioNTech’s vaccine leads to fertility issues in women and referred to Israel’s successful inoculation drive as “outrageous.” A young woman walking nearby who overheard the conversation also told The Media Line that she would refuse to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, several others at the market that day echoed this reluctance.

“I’m personally against it because there’s not enough research,” a 35-year-old Jerusalem resident named Jeremy told The Media Line. “It’s like we’re an experiment.”

“I don’t want it; I have a strong immune system,” said Bracha, 64. “I’m scared of it. It’s been shown that it can cause facial paralysis.”

Bracha, Jeremy and Rachel are not alone in their views. A poll carried out last month by Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth showed that 63% of Israelis intend to receive the COVID-19 vaccination when it becomes available to them, while 11% will refuse to do so. Another 17% plan on waiting at least a year before they decide. A similar survey carried out by the Israel Hayom news site showed that a whopping 37% of Israelis will refuse to get the jab.

We’ve been doing research that’s been ongoing throughout this pandemic.  There is a growing distrust of the different authorities and the level of national resilience is going down. People believe that the decision-making is based on political interests and not on professional facts and figures

According to Dr. Bruria Adini, head of the department of emergency management and disaster medicine in the School of Public Health at Tel Aviv University, the Israeli public is losing faith in decision-makers and authority figures.

“We’ve been doing research that’s been ongoing throughout this pandemic,” Adini told The Media Line. “There is a growing distrust of the different authorities and the level of national resilience is going down. People believe that the decision-making is based on political interests and not on professional facts and figures.”

Adini and a team of researchers at Tel Aviv University and the Technology College of Tel-Hai recently released a study that showed that symptoms of anxiety and depression have significantly increased in Israel since the start of the pandemic. Published last month, the study revealed that nearly one in three Israelis (29%) suffered from extreme or highly extreme symptoms of anxiety at the peak of the second wave in October. By contrast, only 12% of Israelis reported being highly anxious in 2018 prior to the pandemic. One in five Israelis reported feeling highly depressed, in contrast to only 9% in pre-COVID-19 times.

At the moment Adini and her team are measuring the public response to vaccines and hope to present their findings sometime next week.

“Many countries have approved [these vaccines] so that’s a bit of a surprise to me that people are thinking that maybe this is a conspiracy,” she said. “I’m not surprised about local conspiracies about decision making, for example concerning the lockdown. It goes very well with the high level of stress that we have found among the population.”

When it comes to public distrust, Adini said, there are several strategies that can help, including avoiding fear-based communication and increasing the level of transparency in government decision-making. In addition, health officials need to be prepared to share more data and information about the virus with the public.

“We do need a stable government because what’s happening now is something that is increasing the uneasiness and the distress of the population,” Adini asserted, referring the ongoing political stalemate in Israel.

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