Israel has taken the lead with the world’s fastest vaccination campaign against Covid-19, so much so that nearly half of its residents have already received at least one dose of the vaccine. Today, accelerated vaccination turns the country into a living laboratory for determining the rules of a vaccinated society, raising thorny questions about rights, obligations and greater social good.
This week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office voted to reopen malls and museums, on condition that rules on social distancing and mandatory use of masks are followed. For the first time in many months, gyms, cultural and sporting events, hotels and swimming pools will also reopen, but only for certain people.
As part of a new “green badge” system that works both as an incentive and as a punishment, the government will make leisure activities accessible, from this Sunday 21, only to people who have already been fully vaccinated or who have had Covid-19 and recovered. Two weeks later, restaurants, reception rooms and conferences will again be able to operate under the same rules. Customers and participants will be required to present a vaccination certificate with a QR code.
Israel is one of the first countries in the world to deal with a range of legal, moral and ethical issues in real time, trying to balance the stages of resuming public life with sensitive issues such as public safety, discrimination, privacy and freedom of choice.
“Receiving the vaccine is a moral duty,” said Health Minister Yuli Edelstein. “It is part of our mutual responsibility.” It has a new slogan: “Anyone who does not get vaccinated will be left behind.”
The ongoing debate in Israel is being seen in other parts of the world as well, with plans to limit international travel to people with vaccines, ‘green passport’ holders and warnings about growing disparities between rich countries. , with a greater proportion of vaccinated inhabitants, and poor, with fewer vaccinated.
Anxious to get the country out of the third national lockdown without triggering a new wave of infections, Israel’s central government has been pressured to act on local initiatives. In protesting the imposition of the lockdown, a mall in Bat Yam, a working-class suburb of Tel Aviv, opened its doors last week to customers who can prove they have already been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 .
In Karmiel, in the north of the Galilee region, the mayor made a similar decision to reopen his city for business. The city has started processing requests from companies able to verify that all of its employees have received the required two doses of vaccine or that they have already recovered from the virus.
And in other cities, mayors want to ban the presence of unvaccinated teachers in classrooms, while some hotel owners are threatening to fire unvaccinated employees.
Maya Peled Raz, a specialist in public health ethics and law at the University of Haifa, has defended the imposition of certain limits on personal freedoms in the name of the common good. According to her, companies cannot force their employees to be vaccinated, but they may be allowed to employ only vaccinated employees, if failing to do so would harm their business.
“It may involve some restrictions on individual rights, but not all restrictions are prohibited if they are well balanced and legitimate to achieve an honorable goal,” he said. “It’s everyone’s choice,” she added, speaking of leisure activities. “If you’ve been vaccinated, you can come in. Otherwise, we can’t let you put other people at risk. “
About 4 million Israelis – nearly half of the population of 9 million – have already received at least one dose of Pfizer vaccine, and more than 2.6 million have already received the second. But 2 million citizens aged 16 and over who could be vaccinated did not request the vaccine. The average number of new daily Covid cases is around 4,000.
The speed of the vaccination program in Israel stands in stark contrast to the situation in the occupied territories, where few Palestinians have so far received a single dose. The disparity has sparked intense discussions about Israel’s ethical and moral obligations to the Palestinians, in addition to the potential risk to the health of Israelis due to the non-vaccination of Palestinians.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Thursday (18) that vaccination will not be compulsory in Israel. But his ministry is proposing legislation that would require unvaccinated employees whose work involves contact with the public to be tested for the virus every other day. Edelstein is promoting a bill that would allow the wallet to identify unvaccinated people with local authorities.
Volunteers and local authorities tried to lure people to vaccination centers with offers of free pizzas, Arabic sweets and, in the ultra-Orthodox town of Bnei Brak, bags of cholent, a stew traditionally prepared for on Shabbat.
But vaccination is always voluntary and not everyone rushes to get vaccinated.
Concerts and dining are luxuries that people can more easily forgo. But the issue becomes more urgent and contentious when the rights of employers and employees are at stake.
The rights of teachers and school staff will receive special attention with the restart of certain face-to-face lessons. A quarter or more of teachers in Israel did not seek to take the first dose of the vaccine. Critics say this poses a potential risk to students under the age of 16, too young to be vaccinated. Some health professionals have also refrained from getting vaccinated.
After several mayors threatened to ban the presence of unvaccinated teachers in classrooms, the deputy justice minister clarified that mayors do not have the power to do so if there is no no new legislation.
Peled Raz said the temporary emergency law governing Israel’s response to the virus will be easier to change with regard to healthcare professionals than other workers, due to the potential harm to the professionals themselves and their patients. For her, that would be justified.
“Do you want to be a nurse and not get the vaccine?” She said. “Get vaccinated or choose another profession.”
But two advocacy organizations, the Civil Rights Association in Israel and the Workers’ Helpline, said they have already received complaints from other unvaccinated workers. The entities wrote a letter to the justice minister this month asking him to issue a clear notice and said that under current legislation an employer cannot demand information from employees about their vaccination status. .
“The first problem is that there is no public policy on this point,” said Gil Gan-Mor, of the Civil Rights Association in Israel. “When the government does not act quickly enough, private initiatives multiply.”
For him, it is still necessary to find a balance between conflicting rights and interests, which requires a broad discussion in Parliament.