The director-general of the Health Ministry, Prof. Hezi Levi, said Tuesday that the government was considering legislation that would compel Israelis to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, a move that is currently not legal.
"We cannot, at this time, compel teaching staff to get inoculated under the law safeguarding the rights of patients," he said. "We can only try to convince and cajole so that more people do get vaccinated."
Levi said that all other options to increase the percentage of academic staff who have received the vaccine were rejected by the government.
The Justice Ministry is preparing an amendment to the emergency coronavirus bill passed in July 2020, which would include a provision making vaccinations compulsory for educational staff and other people whose jobs bring them into contact with a large number of the general public.
Under the proposed legislation, teachers who refuse to have the vaccines will only be able to work from home or be put on leave without pay.
Senior Justice Ministry officials said there was no way to force the larger population to receive the jab but in the interest of public safety, teachers who persist in refusing the vaccines must face consequences imposed by the government.
Levi cited a 400% increase in COVID-19 cases among children in the past two months compared to the two months before.
He told Ynet on Tuesday that while most children experience mild symptoms of the disease, "some children are still hospitalized and a number of them require intensive care."
He said that the increase could be attributed to the mutation of the virus that was first spotted in the UK, which is believed to be far more contagious to children than previous strains and responsible for 90% of all new COVID-19 cases.
"We see that the British variant is more contagious for children and instructed hospitals to prepare for a surge in pediatric cases," he said.
"We want to provide special training for doctors to care for children suffering from coronavirus."
Levi said the government was taking a calculated risk by reopening most of the country after the six-week lockdown imposed in December to stop the spread of the virus.
"We are not out of the woods," he said. "We have thousands of new daily cases and over 900 people hospitalized in serious condition."
"I agree with the decision to reopen some of the schools and lift some restrictions but I am also fearful of the ramifications of that decision," Levi said.
He said that the 2.6 million Israelis who have already received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine were not enough to protect the public and end the pandemic.
According to the Health Ministry chief, the government is also considering further legislation to allow municipalities see which of their residents has not been vaccinated.
"We hope this move will motivate more people to get the vaccine," Levi said, adding that it is a legal problem that has not yet been resolved.
Education Minister Yoav Galant told Ynet on Tuesday that his ministry urges teachers to receive the vaccines but added that he "cannot see an option in which anyone will be forced to be vaccinated."
Galant said, however, that he agreed that some sanctions should be put on staff who refuse the shots.
He said the ministry has requested information on which educational staff have already been vaccinated but that data has not been forthcoming.