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 hesitation 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,” says Itai, a 36-year-old from Tel Aviv. “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 says, even though there is no proof of anyone dying as a direct result of the vaccine in Israel.
But young people are not the only ones hesitating.
Prof. Arnon Afek, associate director of Sheba Medical Center and a member of the national advisory board for the pandemic, says that while over 4.5 million Israelis, over half the population, have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, there are 500,000 Israelis over the age of 50 who 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.
Afek 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,” says Afek, who is also a former director-general of the Health Ministry.
“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, Afek says, and the positives of vaccination outweigh the negatives.
“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 says.
The pathologist is frustrated by the misinformation online.
“People are risking other peoples’ lives and frightening them with all this false data and half-truths,” he says.
“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 says.
Studies by Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s largest hospital, the Clalit and Maccabi health funds, and the Health Ministry have found that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are 94% effective in preventing symptomatic cases of the disease and 92% effective in preventing severe illness.
Prof. Nadav Davidovitch, director of the School of Public Health at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, also stresses 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 says.
Davidovitch has a message for 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," he says.
"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.”
Reprinted courtesy of The Media Line