Worrying sign from leading vax nation
It has become the star of the vaccination world. Before Australia has put a single jab in a single arm, Israel has already managed to administer 45 per cent of its population with at least one vaccination vial.
That's more than double the rate of the UK - which is having a bad pandemic but a good vaccination rollout - and other high inoculation nations including the US, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
But public health watchers in Israel are now beginning to fret. While take up of the vaccination was initially sky high, fewer and fewer people are now turning up each day for their shot.
"At the beginning of the campaign we got used to inoculating between 100,000 and 120,000 people per day, and in the last few days we are barely reaching half of those figures," Kalanit Kaye, the manager of vaccinations at healthcare provider Clalit Health Services told the Times of Israel.
"We are prepared, our centres are big and accessible, vaccines are being given for free, so I don't understand the people who don't come to get the shot. It's a big mistake."
Politicians had imagined the success of the vaccination program would keep numbers high. Now authorities are resorting to bribing people with promises of pizzas and stews to get them along to vaccination stations.
The blame, at least partly, appears to lie with anti-vaxxers stoking fears within the country of nine million.
There are concerns the increased reluctance to be vaccinated outside the most at risk groups could be repeated worldwide. And the fewer people get the jab, the less likely the goal of herd immunity will be reached.
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ISRAEL WORLD'S LEADING VACCINE NATION
On almost every metric, Israel's vaccination campaign has been extraordinary.
It's given jabs to almost four million people, more than larger countries such as Germany, France and Indonesia that currently have inoculation programs under way.
Of those four million people, almost half have now had two doses.
Israel has vaccinated fewer people overall than the US or the UK, but proportionally it's streets ahead of everyone.
According to Our World in Data figures Israel's 45 per cent of the population who have at least one shot outshines Britain's 21 per cent in second place.
Israel has needed it. Its third wave has been brutal with 8000 new cases a day in mid-January and 20 per cent of its 5400 deaths in the past month.
The vaccination program has appeared to have a positive effect. A study by Clalit found the rate of symptomatic COVID-19 dropped by 94 per cent in those who received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine - the only vaccine Israel currently administers.
Around 85 per cent of over 60s have had a shot.
New cases are dropping in Israel which has also coincided with a lengthy lockdown.
Even more pleasing, the vaccine appears to provide real life protection to those with the B117 COVID-19 variant - otherwise known as the UK strain - which is widespread in Israel.
However, just as those promising numbers have come in, Israel has also been faced with a falling number of people lining up to get the jab.
That's despite it being free and open to all age groups, not just those most at risk of catching coronavirus.
"We have no explanation for why people are not coming. We send out messages telling people to come and get vaccinated, but still the response is low," a Clalit official told Israeli television station Channel 12.
Israel has capacity for 200,000 shots a day to be administered. But within a week, the numbers of those taking up the offer has dropped by 50 per cent. Younger people are proving to be the most difficult to persuade to go and get the vaccine.
Moshe Tsarfati, who spoke to Channel 12 at a vaccination centre in the city of Hod Hasharon, thought he knew why fewer people were getting jabbed.
"It's just shocking the flood of conspiracy theories online against vaccinating. People are dying as a consequence."
The Times of Israel has reported that in some ultra-Orthodox communities religious leaders have suggested worshippers don't get vaccinated.
"It's gotten crazy," said Einav Shimron, a senior official in the health department.
"People post insane things, but some people believe them and it causes harm. If I am hearing about an otherwise normal woman who is convinced that the vaccines contain a surveillance chip, then there's a problem."
In ultra-Orthodox communities take up of technology can be lower so conspiracy theories are often simply printed on posters for passers-by to ponder.
The Times reported one rabbi as saying "germs do not cause diseases" and the vaccine could cause death.
"Why vaccinate now?" the rabbi was reported to have said. "Let's do it in another half a year - maybe. Let's see what happens. Why should the Swiss and Chinese use us as guinea pigs to see what happens?"
There are other challenges too. Younger people are seemingly more blasé to the effect of the virus and are not in a rush to get the shot. While Arabs living within Israel are often less trustworthy of the government and public bodies, with only 19 per cent vaccinated. Controversially, Palestine has not seen the same focus on vaccinating by Israeli authorities. The Palestinian Authority has received some Russian and Chinese shots, and Israel has now sent some vials to the area.
The Government is embarking on a public information campaign to fill the vaccination centres.
In ultra-Orthodox neighbourhoods it's putting up its own posters, extolling the virtues of the jab. In one community, people were tempted to get jabbed with the offer of a free beef and bean stew often eaten on the Sabbath. Three times the usual number of people turned up, it was reported. Pizzas were another dish dangled in front of would-be vaccinators.
In other areas, DJs arrived at a vaccination centre turning it into a party of sorts to tempt over 16s.
But other more controversial measures are being mooted.
One is upping the frequency of tests for public health workers who aren't vaccinated. The hope being the thought of two shots in the arm is more appealing than multiple ear buds down the nose.
Then there is the so-called "green passport". This would allow Israelis to go back to museums, bars and nightclubs - but just if they have the jab. The possibility of holidays in Greece is also being used as an incentive for the vaccinated; they'll only be able to fly with Pfizer.
"It's not the pace it was when it was the 60-pluses," Haim Fernandes, the director of Leumit Health Care Services, another major health care provider, told Israeli newspaper Haaretz.
"We can send another text message and call them but I estimate that in the end the big push will come from incentives such as the 'green passport.'"
With Australia only at the beginning of its vaccine roll out, the road humps in Israel's race to be the first nation to be fully vaccinated will focus minds.
Originally published as Worrying sign from leading vax nation