Efforts afoot to increase haredi vaccination, counter false vaccine info

In the ultra-Orthodox cities of Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit, and Elad, the vaccination rate among 16-19-year olds is between 9.5% to 10%, compared with a vaccination rate of 31% nationally.

Ultra-Orthodox men wait to receive the coronavirus vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Kiryat Ye'arim, January 25, 2021 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Ultra-Orthodox men wait to receive the coronavirus vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Kiryat Ye'arim, January 25, 2021
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
Efforts to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates in the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector and to combat the spread of false information about the vaccine are intensifying.
Along with the now famous “cholent and vaccine” program in Bnei Brak last Thursday night, in which 3,800 residents were inoculated, vaccine drives in yeshivas and seminars are being conducted to increase vaccination rates among eligible haredi teens, which are relatively low.
Vaccination rates for some age groups in the haredi community are lower than the general population, but the percentage of those who have recovered from the disease and who are not eligible for the vaccine is far higher, according to officials from the haredi desk of the Health Ministry’s Public Diplomacy Department.
In the haredi cities of Bnei Brak, Beitar Illit and Elad, the vaccination rate among 16- to 19-year-olds is between 9.5% to 10%, compared with 31% nationally.
However, 30% of that age group have contracted the virus in Bnei Brak, as have 34% in Beitar Illit and 33% in Elad.
In Modi’in Illit, another haredi city, 58% of that age group have had COVID-19 and are not being vaccinated, while 18% have received the vaccine.
In all those cities, more than 80% of residents over the age of 60 have either received the vaccination or have recovered from the virus, and more than 70% of residents between 40 and 59 are either vaccinated or recovering, apart from Bnei Brak, where 68% are.
In an important development on Sunday for the ultra-Orthodox vaccination drive, Rabbi Yehudah Silman, one of the most senior ultra-Orthodox arbiters of Jewish law in Bnei Brak, ruled that an employer could, according to Jewish law, require an employee to get the COVID-19 vaccine if he works with customers, KAN News reported.
And Silman also ruled that a school principal or yeshiva dean could require both educational staff and students to get vaccinated.
One problem that has been identified by the haredi desk of the Health Ministry’s Public Diplomacy Department is of false information being spread about the vaccine, with various claims made about its effects on the health of recipients.
Rabbi Yuval Hacohen Asherov’s videos on YouTube have been viewed tens of thousands of times. Among his claims are that COVID-19 is just a flu and that the vaccine causes infertility, both of which have no basis in scientific fact.
Rabbi Yoav Alon is another major figure who has promoted false theories against the coronavirus vaccination. He describes himself as a scientist on his YouTube channel and has claimed that those who get vaccinated suffer worse COVID-19 symptoms than those who do not, despite studies demonstrating that the Pfizer vaccine in Israel has been 92% effective in preventing infection.
Alon’s videos have garnered some 36,000 views on his YouTube channel.
The problematic nature of these claims and their effects on vaccination rates was highlighted by coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash in a press briefing last week. Efforts are underway to determine if legal proceedings can be brought against those who propagate false theories, he said.
In addition, the Health Ministry’s haredi desk has been working to counter the false information.
On Sunday, it denounced Asherov and refuted his claims, saying he is neither a doctor nor has qualifications as a rabbi from the Chief Rabbinate.
Experts in the field of immunology have appeared on the Kol Barama haredi radio station to refute the allegations against the vaccine, while leading rabbis have signed letters that urge people to get vaccinated and to ignore the fraudulent claims.
Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky, Gershon Edelstein and Shalom Cohen, three of the most senior haredi rabbis, have all called on haredim to get vaccinated, as has Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef. Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar recently denounced those “inciting” against the vaccine.