UMM AL FAHM/TEL AVIV: As Israel leads the world in the rate of coronavirus vaccination, some of its Arab citizens and Palestinians in annexed East Jerusalem are regarding the shot with suspicion.
In what officials see as a result of misinformation about possible side-effects or supposed malicious properties, turnout for vaccines has been low among Arabs, who make up 21 per cent of Israel’s population, and Jerusalem Palestinians.
“I will not be vaccinated because I don’t know what is in there. No one explained it to me,” said Marouf Alyino of East Jerusalem. “Everyone is looking at Facebook and social media, where we hear about someone dying (after getting vaccinated).”
Israel launched its vaccination drive on December 19. The Health Ministry said on Thursday that 17.5 per cent of the population — and 70 per cent of citizens aged 60 or older — had received their first shots.
The lag in some Arab communities has prompted citizens from the Jewish majority to go to clinics there in search of shorter queues. On occasion, leftover vaccines have been given to walk-ins who are not within the high-risk cohort getting priority.
One vaccination centre, in the northern town of Umm al Fahm, reported rising attendance by Arab recipients as the vaccination campaign spreads with little news of mishaps.
Farida Mahajneh, the centre’s director, said turnout was “meagre” when it began operating in late December.
“But today the turnout is increasing day after day among the Arab residents,” she said. “People should know that everyone should be vaccinated, and it is safe.”
Ahmed Saif, the Health Ministry’s coronavirus coordinator for the Arab community, said the sector had only four vaccination centres in the first week of Israel’s roll-out.
“Now there are 40,” he said on Monday.
Meanwhile, Israel imposed additional restrictions from Thursday midnight, as the first vaccines made by US biotech company Moderna reached the country.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on all Israelis to abide by the tougher measures, hours after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein admitted that few had complied with the third lockdown, which began two weeks ago.
“We are going into lockdown so as not to kill each other!” Rivlin said in a video statement to Israelis.
“We, all of us and without exceptions, must follow its rules,” he said.
He said the vaccine’s effects would soon be felt and the country would return to normality. “Until then, we must be patient and disciplined.”
The tougher rules, which take effect at midnight on Thursday, are in place for at least two weeks.
All schools and kindergartens will be shut, with the exception of special education, a government statement said. — Reuters/dpa