Israel leads the world in its rate of vaccination so far, with 7.44% of the population already vaccinated.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The hottest status symbol in Israel these days is not the latest gadget, but the coronavirus vaccine and the brand everyone wants is Pfizer.
The rumors going viral on social media are about how you can get the vaccine, and only some of them are fake news.
While a month ago, large numbers of Israelis – close to half the population – expressed doubt whether they wanted to get the vaccine, due to the speed with which it was developed and sensationalized stories about its hazards, now, many are in a frantic race to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
Israel leads the world in vaccination rate so far, with 7.44% of the population already getting their jab. Unlike some countries, where the criteria for receiving the vaccine are murky, in Israel it has been clear that this early rollout is strictly for medical staff, people over 60 and those with serious health conditions that put them at high risk if they are infected by the virus.
All anyone in these categories has to do to get vaccinated is to call one’s health fund for an appointment (or in the case of medical professionals, to set an appointment to be vaccinated at work).
While in the first days that the system was open for appointments, there were crashes of the health funds’ phones, apps and websites, just about everyone who is eligible has either been vaccinated or has an appointment.
Health officials have promised repeatedly that teachers and school staff will be the next group to be vaccinated, since schools are still open during the third lockdown, which began Sunday.
But the clarity of the process, and government reassurances that anyone who needs a vaccine will get one as soon as possible, have not stopped a gold rush for them.
Perhaps the festive and headline-grabbing rollout of the vaccines helped. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein were vaccinated on December 19, just after the first vaccines arrived, clad not in their usual suits and ties but in all-black outfits that were lampooned later in the week on the satirical television show Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country).
The next morning, former coronavirus commissioner and CEO of Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center Prof. Ronni Gamzu was serenaded by pop star Ivri Lider as he sat down to get vaccinated in the lobby of his hospital, as doctors and nurses danced. The hospital continued to vaccinate over-60 celebrities in the lobby throughout the week, among them journalist and producer Gal Uchovsky and movie director Avi Nesher.
Prof. Gabi Barbash, the former CEO of Sourasky and a well-known commentator on Channel 12 News, who has explained the facts about the virus calmly throughout the crisis, was vaccinated live on television.
Chelli Goldenberg, an actress who was once one of Israel’s top models, posted a photo on Instagram from her 1985 movie, Banot (Girls), about female IDF recruits, showing her glamour girl character getting vaccinated at her induction and asking anxiously; “It doesn’t leave a mark, does it?”
Apparently, this charm offensive worked, and suddenly, younger people all seemed to want what the over-60 set was having.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have been filled with advice how those not in high-risk groups can get the vaccine. Rumors flew that the vaccine was now available to everyone, and that all you needed to do was call your health fund to book an appointment.
One long thread on the Secret Jerusalem Facebook page posted by Juliet Solomon, with hundreds of comments, separated the myths from the facts about vaccine distribution.
Those posting discussed the fact that it is sometimes possible to go to a vaccine center or health fund and get vaccinated at the end of the day without an appointment, because all vaccines need to be used quickly once their packaging is opened.
During the day, sometimes people do not show up for appointments, and often there are leftover vaccines that can be given to anyone who happens to be there; otherwise, they will be thrown away.
Solomon, who said she would use the information she gleaned from those posting about getting the leftover vaccines, added she thought younger people felt it was urgent to get the vaccine. “Young people (ones who aren’t anti-vaxxers) are also eager to get vaccinated because they are afraid of catching corona, want to be able to hug their family and friends, and also want to travel (whether for pleasure or to visit family).”
One young woman who lives near Jerusalem started a Whatsapp group with her friends where they trade information about which centers will have leftover vaccines at the end of the day.
She did not want her name used, because a friend of hers is a nurse in one of the health funds and has been giving tips to the group about places where there were likely to be vaccines left each day. The woman said she had gotten her vaccine on Monday evening.
She acknowledged that none of her friends were “remotely high risk,” but said, “I just want to get back to normal. So with the vaccines here, it’s like I just had to get one as soon as I could. You could say I’ve run out of patience.”
She is a marathon runner and said, “I’m a little scared of the vaccine, of side effects. But I’m more scared of getting the virus, especially with all these aftereffects that I could have the rest of my life.”
She wanted to make it very clear that her friend, the nurse, is giving away these tips, not selling them, and that “nobody is jumping the line. These are vaccines they would be throwing away otherwise.”