TEL AVIV – Across the street from a bar full of newly vaccinated Israelis, a crowd gathered on a recent Tuesday to protest against government pressure to get vaccinated and the benefits it offers to those vaccinated.
Over the blare of techno music, many of the anti-vax protesters wore stickers saying “No to forced vaccination” and complaining that only they could decide what to do with their bodies. His main complaint: the so-called green passport, issued by the government, which allows those who have received both injections of the vaccine to enter bars, gyms and restaurants.
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“I’m healthy, my body knows how to overcome,” said Tamir Hefetz, 46, one of the organizers of the anti-vaccine demonstration. “The green passport is a terrible thing.”
In the later stages of its vaccination campaign, Israel is trying to persuade those who are reluctant to get vaccinated before new variants of the coronavirus spike infection levels again, causing further damage to the country’s economy.
But the hardened pockets of resistance facing the Israeli government point to the struggles that await many Western countries, including the United States, once they have vaccinated much of their populations.
“The further you go, the more difficult it becomes,” Israel’s Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in an interview. “It’s exactly like running a marathon.”
With more than 55% of its population receiving at least one injection, and more than 46% with two, Israel’s vaccine campaign has reached a critical stage. After peaking at more than 230,000 injections a day in mid-January, the launch of the vaccine has slowed in recent weeks to about 100,000 a day.
Experts warn that if Israel is to achieve some level of immunity and detection that allows it to emerge from repeated cycles of economic openings and lockdowns, that pace must accelerate.
Gili Regev, director of the epidemiology division at Sheba Medical Center, said Israel will not achieve herd immunity with the British variant until 80% of the population is vaccinated, which is currently impossible until children under 16 years of age can get the vaccine. Before that, he said, only vaccinating as many people over the age of 16 as possible will improve prospects.
“The more people get vaccinated, the safer it is for everyone,” he said.
Dr. Regev estimates that only about 4% of Israelis offered a vaccine decline it, but there are many others who have not bothered to get vaccinated, despite individual cities setting up mobile vaccination sites and public awareness campaigns. The government of Israel has also developed an elaborate incentive system, based on green passports, that allows vaccinated people to access fitness, dining and entertainment options that are mostly closed during successive closings and are still largely closed. closed for the unvaccinated.
Since the beginning of the vaccination campaign, Israel’s health maintenance organizations have reached out to all eligible with text messages, phone calls and emails to attract them to the vaccination sites.
Such appeals still fall on deaf ears to people like Katy Drabkin from Holon, a city south of Tel Aviv. Recently, he cycled past a vaccination center in the city and then urged several people in line not to inject themselves. She does not trust the mainstream media information about vaccines and is bothered by being discriminated against for refusing an injection.
“What is happening now is that our media belongs to the system, which belongs to people with vested interests,” he said. “So now, they are just convincing everyone that there is a dangerous pandemic.”
Shiri, 45, who attended the anti-vaccination rally in Tel Aviv but refused to give her last name because she feared repercussions on her business, also doubts it is worth a shot. She took her husband and three children to distribute the vaccine stickers to passersby.
“I’m not sure this is safe or that it works,” she said, referring to the vaccine.
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Israel initially fared well during the first wave of the pandemic, but experienced a crippling second wave after reopening too quickly over the summer, forcing a second lockdown. The country was locked down again in December after the spread of the most contagious British variant of the virus triggered a third wave that was the worst of all. So far, more than 6,000 people have died from Covid-19, and the shutdowns have cost the Israeli economy billions of dollars.
The campaign in favor of vaccines is influencing some strongholds. Amos Yekutiel from Jerusalem said he had no plans to get vaccinated, but did so after passing through a vaccination site that had been set up in a neighborhood bar. His friends warned him that he couldn’t visit until he was vaccinated and pushed the 36-year-old consultant through the door.
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“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I just didn’t think I needed it,” he said. Now that you’ve changed your mind, you’re excited to go out to restaurants and have a group dinner. “It gives you more freedom.”
To further sway skeptics, Israel’s Health Ministry is also targeting misinformation about vaccines, mostly spread on social media. Health officials are working with Israel’s Ministry of Justice to remove false information about vaccines and are also releasing information to debunk vaccine myths.
In Jerusalem, two religious students said that although many of their friends had urged them not to get vaccinated, they eventually went ahead after asking volunteer doctors and doctors about how it works and consulting with their parents.
“[At first] we looked at each other and said ‘of course not,’ ”said Yaakov Silverman, 21, who was eating ice cream when a volunteer found him and his friend and suggested they get vaccinated at a nearby bar. “But we asked a couple of questions … and we talked to each other about it and said, ‘Why don’t we do it?'”
—Dov Lieber in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.
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