Hundreds of Thousands of Israelis Have Said No to the COVID-19 Vaccine: Why Are They Waiting?

Israel has now faced a year of chaotic pandemic management, three lockdowns – the last of which is still not over – the British virus variant that reshuffled the cards and an out-of-control growth in the number of COVID-19 diagnoses and serious cases. It is clearer than ever that the solution to putting an end to the coronavirus crisis lies in the vaccine, even if it does not happen the way Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning, before the Passover holiday and in time for the next election.

Research and data from the field is starting to accumulate, and it shows that those who have received both doses of the vaccine are much less likely to fall ill with COVID-19, to deteriorate into serious illness or to die of it. Only later will it be clear if, and to what degree, the vaccine prevents inoculated people from infecting others, but preliminary signs show that we can be optimistic about it.

In terms of serious cases and deaths, the coronavirus has mostly hit older and elderly people. Of those who died from COVID-19 or were in serious condition, 97.5 percent and 87.5 percent respectively were aged 50 and older. Of those who died, 93 percent were aged 60 or above. This is why the vaccination campaign focused from the outset on medical staff and the older population – the two groups at highest risk. Even now, the most important national mission is to vaccinate as many people over age 50 as possible.

But this is not a simple task: As of today, 3.5 million Israelis have already received their first dose of the vaccine, and 2.2 million of them have also received the second dose. But it is clear that the vaccination campaign, which a week ago was expanded to include all Israelis over age 16, is now stuck. Many vaccination centers remain empty, waiting for takers.

A Clalit HMO vaccination center in Ramat Gan, last week.Hadas Parush

According to the Health Ministry’s plan, when 4 million Israelis have been vaccinated with both doses – not including the over 500,000 people who have recovered from COVID-19 – of whom 95 percent are 50 and older, the country can almost completely reopen. This includes entry to restaurants, auditoriums, event halls, theaters, conferences and more, without masks.

But as of today, only 79 percent of that age group has been vaccinated. There are still 376,000 Israelis aged 50 and up who, for whatever reason, have not been inoculated. Another 2 million people aged 16 to 49 have not yet been vaccinated either.

Arabs and Haredim vaccinating less