Israel must reach out to anti-vaxxers to fully defeat COVID

Opinion: Incredibly, too many Israelis appear to be susceptible to scaremongering campaigns and pseudo science and not factual scientific information and testimonies of near-death COVID patients

Uri Heitner|
Israel's greatest achievement in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, both during the term of the previous government and the current one, is vaccines. The are also, however, the country's greatest failure in the battle against the pathogen.
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  • Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu understood early on that vaccines would be the ultimate solution in the fight against the continued spread of the virus. He rushed to secure enough doses to inoculate the entire country, using the efficient public health system in place since the establishment of the state.
    4 View gallery
    חיסון שלישי של מד"א בחולון
    חיסון שלישי של מד"א בחולון
    A man receives his booster shot against COVID in Holon last August
    (Photo: AFP)
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in turn, rolled out the booster shot when the protection provided by the first two doses of the vaccine began to decline. His courageous decision not to wait for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval of the booster and his successful efforts to secure the vaccine doses needed have finally borne fruit.
    The end of the fourth wave of the pandemic is now within reach despite Bennett's reluctance to impose crippling restrictions, keeping schools and businesses open.
    Still, both leaders also failed.
    In a democracy the majority rules, and in a pandemic the minority can impact public health.
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    רה"מ בנט מתחסן במנה השלישית
    רה"מ בנט מתחסן במנה השלישית
    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett receives his booster shot in August
    (Photo: Shaul Golan)
    When Israel announced its victory over the coronavirus in the last days of the Netanyahu government, nearly 1.5 Israelis remained unvaccinated. Now, under Bennett's government, 750,000 have still not agreed to receive the vaccines and the challenge is to bring them to the inoculation centers.
    Hardcore vaccine deniers are beyond help. They are a sect that denies logic and ascribes to conspiracy theories, but they are only a small minority. Most of those who have yet to receive vaccines can be divided into two major groups.
    The first group is made up of populations suffering from low income, lack of education and poor quality of life. Most of them are in the Arab and the ultra-Orthodox sectors. They must be reached through effective education, cooperation of local leaders and improved accessibility to health care, particularly vaccines. Perhaps a door-to-door vaccination drive would achieve better results.
    The second group is more elusive. It is made up of people who are not die-hard antivaxxers but still doubt the science.
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    הפגנת מתנגדי חיסונים בת"א
    הפגנת מתנגדי חיסונים בת"א
    Demonstrators protest vaccines in Tel Aviv in July
    (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
    It is perplexing to see that in 2021, so many people are more susceptible to the scare tactics of pseudoscience than to scientific facts.
    The failure in bringing those hundreds of thousands to get the vaccine is shared by both the health and education systems, as well as the scientific community in Israel and even in the world at large.
    I believe, however, this sector of the public can be persuaded to accept the vaccines.
    If they are so easily frightened by falsehoods such as potential loss of potency caused by the jabs – they could also be persuaded with actual facts.
    They must be educated on the real number of COVID deaths among the unvaccinated. They must be inundated with the last words of those at death's door who urge others to discard their anti-vaccine positions.
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    מחלקת קורונה בבית החולים ברזילי באשקלון
    מחלקת קורונה בבית החולים ברזילי באשקלון
    Medical staff treat seriously ill COVID patients at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon
    (Photo: AP)
    They must also be exposed to hospital COVID wards to see the suffering of those fighting for each breath and those being kept alive by machines.
    At the same time, the government must increase its incentives for those who are vaccinated, making it clear to all that the toll for avoiding the shots is heavy.

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