COVID hit, Israeli ultra-Orthodox slow to get shots


Israel, BNEI BRAK (AP) — Yossi Levy has repeatedly booked and canceled the coronavirus vaccine reservation. The 45-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew, like his eight children and wife, recovered from the virus earlier this year. However, due to the combination of fatigue and procrastination, he was unable to follow through and be vaccinated.

“It’s not imminent. I’m not against it. It’s just laziness,” he said.

Levy is one of the hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews who have not yet received COVID-19 shots. This group has some of the lowest immunization rates in the country, despite being hit hard by the pandemic.

Faced with a new coronavirus variant, Omicron, authorities are now struggling to increase vaccination rates for populations that have previously been slow to roll up their sleeves.

“We continue to attack on vaccination issues,” said Abraham Rubinstein, mayor of Bunei Black, the country’s largest ultra-Orthodox city.

It’s been a year since the COVID-19 vaccine became available, but resistance to the vaccine continues as the death toll increases and the highly contagious variant of Omicron spreads around the world. Executives of unconventional people have stepped up to promote vaccination with efforts that were traditionally in the area of ​​public health authorities.

Israeli authorities have appealed to a prominent rabbi in the community that acts as a mediator of all issues to facilitate vaccination. They have a mobile clinic. And they are defeating a wave of lies about vaccines that have washed away parts of the community.

Vaccination rates are partially low, as half of the ultra-Orthodox population is under the age of 16 and has just recently been vaccinated. Also, many ultra-Orthodox believers are already infected or believe they are infected and do not think they need a vaccine.

Outreach efforts have been successful in many ways. Authorities want to increase immunization rates with a new mobile practice campaign at religious schools and media blitz that pressures parents to vaccinate their children.

Israel was one of the first countries to vaccinate the population at the end of last year and was the first country to give booster shots. However, the campaign has been delayed for the past few weeks, and hundreds of thousands of people remain unvaccinated or unboostered due to the impending ghost of Omicron’s surge.

The second vaccination rate for the general population is about 63% and boosters are 45%, but in the ultra-Orthodox community, that number is about half. If you include about 300,000 people who are known to have recovered, the immunity of the area will be slightly higher, but the Israeli Ministry of Health has stated that at least one infected person if six months have passed since the infection. It is recommended to give one injection.

The low vaccination rate is in stark contrast to the high prices paid by the community during the pandemic. The ultra-Orthodox were hit hard from the beginning, with 1.2 million people in the community often leading the country’s prevalence and losing hundreds of people to the disease. The ultra-Orthodox make up 13% of Israel’s 9.3 million population.

There are social reasons for the rapid spread of the community. Ultra-Orthodox tend to live in poor and crowded areas with large families in small apartments where the disease can spread quickly. The synagogue, the center of social life, gathers men to pray and socialize in a small space.

Raising vaccination rates is a unique challenge for health authorities, as certain ultra-Orthodox ways of life, also known as Haredimu.

The corridor community has long been separated from mainstream Israeli life, with children studying the Bible, but little math and English. Communities usually avoid the Internet, do not watch secular television, and tend to live separately from non-religious Israelis. It doubts many of the secular state authorities and modernity traps.

“For Haredim, there is a double fear of nation and science. There is no fundamental trust in these organizations,” said the ultra-orthodox program of the Israel Democratic Institute, a think tank in Jerusalem. Said Gilad Malak, who heads the. He said skepticism made it possible to spread unfounded claims about vaccines to the community.

Avi Blumenthal, an adviser to the Ministry of Health on the ultra-Orthodox, said vaccine information would be disseminated to the ultra-Orthodox people through biweekly messages posted in the local media and on the bulletin boards of the community known as “Pashkeville.” He says these measures reach the overwhelming majority of Haredimu.

The ultra-Orthodox follow a rigorous interpretation of Judaism and rely on rabbis to guide them in many life decisions. Some rabbis actively encourage vaccination, while others are less aggressive and their followers were less enthusiastic about getting vaccinated.

Blumenthal, who is himself ultra-orthodox, said the Ministry of Health recently held a meeting at the country’s largest hospital, inviting prominent rabbis to discuss the importance of vaccines with doctors. The head of the government’s coronavirus advisory board repeatedly met with key religious figures and urged them to disseminate information about vaccines.

“We pass by the Jewish sage,” said Dvora Ber, 27, a resident of Bnei Brak, the mother of four vaccinated mothers. “What they say to us, we do.”