The Israeli vaccination campaign is often presented outside its borders as a great success in terms of organization and logistics. While it is undoubtedly a success from the point of view of the rate of people vaccinated (55% of the total population has already been vaccinated with at least one dose, 46% with the two doses, in less than three months), it was seriously flawed from the viewpoint of public health protection and democracy.
I) The decision to vaccinate or not against Covid must be the result of an informed and serene debate, based on complete and transparent information
Vaccination is an important medical act, at the individual and collective level. It requires, on the part of political and health authorities, an open, prudent, transparent and non-dogmatic attitude. An attitude of overconfidence, whether in favor or against a vaccine, is not likely to bring positive outcomes in terms of public health.
The scientific and societal debate on the Covid vaccine should focus in particular :
- On the risk of contracting a severe form of Covid, without a vaccine, depending on age and health condition
- On the effectiveness of alternative therapies to the vaccine (ivermectin, azithromycin, etc.)
- On the exact status of this treatment : “gene therapy”, as the mRNA Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is considered by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) (see linked document p.16) ? Or “vaccine”, as generally considered in the public debate ?
- On the hindsight that science has on this new technology
- On the efficacy and relative risks of all the vaccines available on the market
- On the level of responsibility taken by the vaccine companies in the possible side effects
- On the respect of medical ethics and fundamental human rights. In particular, for a treatment in a trial phase, any person being treated must be informed beforehand that he or she is participating in a medical trial, of the risks he or she is taking, in order to give informed consent as a participant in this trial.
- On the state of medical research on its effectiveness and side effects: what testing phase are we currently in? how long is the hindsight we have on side effects? how long does the immune memory offered by the vaccine last? are there independent evaluations of the effectiveness and side effects of the vaccine?
- On the proven and potential short and long term side effects of the vaccine:
o Potential impacts on the immune system and vulnerability to new infections
o Potential impacts on the human genome, within current and future generations
- On the impact of the vaccine in epidemiological terms:
o Potential for long-term herd immunity to future variants
o Vaccine-induced selective pressure that may favor the emergence of potentially more dangerous variants than those existing today
- On the risk/benefit balance for each age group and the different types of medical conditions. This task requires weighing the risk of contracting a severe form of Covid against the risk of suffering a side effect of the vaccine. Indeed, vaccination may provide a positive risk/benefit balance for those who may develop severe forms. However, extreme caution must be exercised when vaccinating healthy people with an extremely low risk of developing a severe Covid form, especially those under 20 years of age, for whom the risk of dying from Covid in a given year is 3 in 1 million in Israel.
- On the impact of vaccinating each age group on the utilization of health care capacities, and thus on the possibilities of opening up the economy and the school system.
II) The Israeli vaccination policy has failed on many levels
Let us examine, in the light of the principles set out above, all the failures of Israeli vaccination policy since December 2020:
- First, Benyamin Netanyahu is using the Israeli vaccine campaign for electoral purposes to ensure his re-election on March 23, 2021. This interference between the electoral and vaccination campaigns is not conducive to a transparent and honest debate on the vaccine. The tragic precedent of Sanofi’s Dengvaxia vaccine in the Philippines should have been a lesson. Incumbent President Aquino launched a vaccination campaign 45 days before the 2016 elections in an attempt to convince Filipinos that he was tackling the dengue problem head on. The medical experiment ended in 2017, after it was realized that vaccinated people were at greater risk of contracting dengue than unvaccinated people.
- Then there is a problem of transparency of information:
o Opacity surrounding the contract between the Israeli government and Pfizer, which raises fears of capture of Israeli policy by private interests. In particular, Israel has given Pfizer exclusive rights to use the medical data on the results of the vaccine experiment and to vaccinate Israel. On the other hand, the Israeli pharmaceutical giant Teva was given exclusive distribution rights of the Pfizer vaccine in Israel.
o Lack of information regarding the “clinical trial” nature of the Israeli vaccination campaign. As the Pfizer vaccine is in phase III testing until January 2023, this lack of informed consent on the part of the vaccinated population justified the complaint that the International Criminal Court has just lodged against the Israeli government for violation of the Nuremberg Code. The Israeli government even authorized and encouraged the vaccination of pregnant women at an early stage, even before Pfizer officially launched the clinical trial for pregnant women.
o Misleading information provided by the Ministry of Health as to the nature of the approval given to the Pfizer vaccine by the FDA. Indeed, on its website, the Israeli Ministry of Health fails to specify that this approval is of an emergency nature only.
o Absence of regular and detailed official reports on the side effects already observed with the vaccine, on the model of the VAERS in the U.S. Private initiatives have therefore naturally developed to inform the public about the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine. Testimonies of vaccinees suffering from side effects and of doctors anonymously describing these effects are multiplying on social networks but are rarely relayed by hospitals and the mainstream media.
o Lack of transparency about the duration of immune protection offered by the vaccine. Indeed, after stating at the beginning of the vaccination campaign that “the epidemic would be over in a few weeks”, Benyamin Netanyahu announced to the Israelis that not only two doses of mRNA vaccine with unknown long-term effects will be injected into the vast majority of the Israeli population, but probably four doses every year, with the aim, in the words of the Israeli Prime Minister, of “protecting it against future pandemics”. These injections at short intervals will be essential for the renewal of the “green badge”, which allows only those who have been vaccinated to leave the country, as well as access to cafés, hotels, sports halls, places of worship, concerts, etc.
o Difficulty in setting up a serene contradictory debate on health policies, in a context where the voices opposed to the government’s official line of communication are purposely silenced. The Minister of Health, Yuli Edelstein, declared on 16 December 2020 that the Pfizer vaccine, although in phase III until January 2023, “had been tested in every possible way” and that “his mission in the coming months would be to engage in a fight against fake news”.
- In addition, economic and financial pressures to vaccinate are being exerted at all levels, yet going against the laws of the country:
o Companies, municipalities, schools, businesses, are subject to vaccination targets and provide financial incentives to people who vaccinate
o Some employees who do not vaccinate are pressured and sometimes even threatened with dismissal or a change in their employment contract. Mandatory vaccination is already a reality in some groups such as the retail giant Shufersal. But the labour courts, which are receiving thousands of complaints, no longer seem able to enforce the country’s own laws.
o Many teenagers have been forced to get vaccinated to pass the bachelor, an episode that is a prelude to the vaccination already scheduled for the summer of children under 16, who make up a quarter of the Israeli population.
o People who have not been vaccinated suffer significant discrimination as regards their access to culture, leisure activities, employment, etc. They are also stigmatized by the government and by the whole of society as “irresponsible”.
- Finally, freedom-destroying laws are passed by a near-empty Parliament, in what is now a mockery of parliamentary democracy. On March 10, 2021, by a vote of 5 in favor and 0 against (the Israeli parliament, called the “Knesset”, has 120 members), the Knesset plenum approved in first reading a bill proposing the use of electronic tracking devices (i.e., “electronic bracelets”) to enforce mandatory isolation of returnees from abroad who wish to isolate themselves at home. By a vote of 1 in favor and 0 against, the Knesset passed the “green badge” regulation restricting the access to gyms, cafes, prayer halls etc. to those who have been vaccinated.
In such a context, the Israeli public is deprived of a free and serene debate on the vaccination issue. Many vaccinate simply to “return to a normal life” or out of social pressure, without being really convinced of the benefit of the vaccine for their own health or for public health. Many unvaccinated people, not only have lost their rights, but also have to face hostile attitudes from their work colleagues, their relatives or their friends. In both cases, the Israeli vaccine policy introduces moral suffering, coupled with a loss of confidence in the country’s institutions.
The wounds that this vaccination policy has opened are very deep and will take time to heal.