For weeks, the sense in government was of having hit something of a vaccination glass ceiling. Now suddenly, the prime minister is pushing hard for many more Israelis to roll up their sleeves. Why the change?
Naftali Bennett surprised the public on Thursday with his sharply worded comments.
Those who don’t vaccinate “are endangering their health, those around them, and the freedom of every Israeli citizen,” he said, with a firmness that has been mostly absent from elected officials’ discourse throughout the pandemic.
“Every citizen over age 12 who doesn’t have a medical reason not to must go get vaccinated,” he said.
“One million Israelis are refusing to get vaccinated,” Bennett continued. “They are endangering the entire population, they are endangering the other eight million citizens in the country.” Again on Sunday, he urged vaccination.
It’s unknown exactly what prompted Bennett’s change of pitch, but it’s now clear that an influential Hebrew University expert panel has urged the government both to reinstitute the Green Pass — which happened — and to start once again fighting to get people vaccinated.
“About half the unvaccinated need to join the pool of inoculated people to really make a difference,” Prof. Nadav Katz, the statistics expert on the team said, explaining that his calculations aim at bringing the transmission rate, currently 1.4, under 1.
That rate, or R number, is the average number of people a sick person infects. Forcing it under zero makes the caseload shrink, not grow.
Katz said: “The Green Pass is definitely a positive move, and we believe that if if a few hundred thousand join the pool it will bring the R number under one.”
For weeks, there have been medical voices calling for a push to inoculate 200,000 elderly Israelis who are still unvaccinated, as they are the most vulnerable to serious illness.
Katz’s team echoes this call, but also, observing current infection patterns, puts heavy emphasis on persuading younger people to vaccinate. The objective is to stop coronavirus spread, which the team believes is faster than anticipated.
“Today, most of the spread or the excess spread that is pushing the R [number] above one is coming from younger populations, aged 12 to 40, who are not vaccinated. We have been analyzing what exactly is pushing the R higher, and this seems to be the main factor,” Katz said.
Bennett, in his speech, singled out the 12-30 age group for attention, noting that there are some 600,000 unvaccinated people in that age range.
Katz’s group wrote in a report that was shared with government that a vaccination push for that age group could be key in helping to ensure that “the opening of the new school year happens as planned” on September 1.
This logic, that increasing the vaccination is key to a calm school year, was prominent in a discussion convened by Bennett late Sunday to discuss the return to studies in September.
“We are here in order to hear about the plans of the Education Ministry and the Health Ministry on how we are going to open the school year in an orderly manner,” he said. “Our goal, as you all know, is not to harm the economy, education or daily routines.
“I will say that in order to reach this, and I think that this is now crying out around the world, it is clear that we need to vaccinate as much of the Israeli public as possible,” Bennett said.
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