While the rest of the world scrambles to obtain coronavirus vaccines, Israel is busy trying to figure out what to do about the people who are reluctant to get the jab.
This hesitancy is being fueled by misinformation online, for example, a popular post on Facebook from earlier this month, since debunked, claiming that two Israelis died after taking the vaccine.
People claiming the vaccines do more harm than good fill social media with untrue posts, fueling some people’s aversion to inoculation.
“I’m not against all vaccines,” Itai, a 36-year-old from Tel Aviv, told The Media Line “I just wonder about the safety of the coronavirus vaccine because it was approved so quickly.
“I’ve seen posts about Israelis getting very sick or even dying after it, so I’d rather wait to get it,” he added, even though there is no proof of anyone dying as a direct result of the vaccine in Israel.
Young people are not the only ones hesitating.
Afek said that while over 4.5 million Israelis, over half the population, have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, 500,000 Israelis over the age of 50 have not yet gone to get inoculated.
All Israelis aged 16 and up have been eligible for vaccination against COVID-19 since February 4. About 28% of the population is under age 16; only a few dozen youngsters with chronic medical conditions have been inoculated.
Prof. Arnon Afek, associate director of Sheba Medical Center and a member of the national advisory board for the corona epidemic, is worried about the consequences of people refusing to take the vaccine.
“I don’t know what the long-term effects of the vaccine are, but I do know the corona is much worse,” Afek, also a former director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry, told The Media Line. “Not only are people dying but we see long term-effects among young men and women who were [in perfect health and] now can’t get out of bed because of chronic fatigue and lost their sense of smell and taste….”
While there are sometimes side effects to the vaccine, most are mild, he said.
The positives of vaccination outweigh the negatives, he said.
“You have to do your own risk assessment and understand that taking the vaccine is not only the most sensible course, it’s the safest thing in the world,” Afek said.
The pathologist is frustrated by the misinformation online.
“People are risking other people’s lives and frightening them with all this false data and half-truths,” he said. “It’s a huge responsibility to take people’s lives into your hands, and those who don’t take the vaccine are in danger of losing their lives.”
Whether to get inoculated is not simply a matter of “personal choice,” because of the consequences for the health system and for fellow citizens.
“When those who don’t get vaccinated get sick, they rely on the limited resources of the healthcare system, which prevents us from giving the best medical treatment to all the people who need our help, corona and non-corona wise,” Afek said.
Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, also stressed the societal benefits of inoculation.
“We have more and more data that the vaccine is not just about personal protection. … There is a community effect in reducing severe cases and also reducing the risk of infecting other people,” he told The Media Line.
Davidovitch would say this to those who hesitate to get inoculated:
“I understand people being hesitant, but I can assure them the vaccine went through a very rigorous approval process; nothing was skipped. … According to the Israeli data, after millions of people have been people vaccinated, we still see most of the side effects are minor and also not permanent, and the efficacy of the vaccine is extremely high and it’s preventing severe illness and death. It’s a lifesaving option,” Davidovitch said.
Studies by Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, and Clalit Health Services, Maccabi Heathcare Services, the largest and second-largest, respectively, of the country’s four health funds, or HMOs, and the Health Ministry have found two doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be 94% effective at preventing symptomatic cases of the disease and 92% effective at preventing severe illness.