Israel needs to incentivize inoculation - opinion

The key to success is positive reinforcement.

Sheba Medical staff members receive the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine, at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, January 10, 2021 (photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
Sheba Medical staff members receive the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine, at the Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, January 10, 2021
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)
First the good news: The rollout of Israel’s COVID vaccination program has been impressive by any standard. While the lifesaving vaccine is only slowly being delivered to high-risk and elderly populations in most Western countries, in Israel the vaccine is now available to all citizens over the age of 16.
To date, more than 3.7 million people out of a population of nine million have received the first shot of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine, of which 2.4 million have received both shots.
In December people were rushing to get vaccinated – some citizens lining up for hours at the end of the day or traveling to different cities in order to benefit from the extra vaccines that could not be re-stored and would otherwise go to waste. Now that the vaccination is readily available, however the numbers of those seeking it have dropped.
To a certain extent, this was to be expected. After all, those who were most eager made an effort to get inoculated at the earliest opportunity, and those who remain are the ones who are hesitant.
It is in the interests of all that every person who can be vaccinated receives the necessary jabs. Apart from lowering the risk of infecting those who suffer from the few conditions that prevent them from receiving the vaccination, it reduces the strain on the health system. And widespread vaccination will enable the country to gradually resume a more normal way of life.
Lately, there has been an increasingly strident tone from some mayors and employers, threatening that when the closure is fully lifted, those who are not fully vaccinated will not be allowed to return to their jobs, or will be fired. It is not clear whether such measures would withstand a legal challenge. People cannot be forced to be vaccinated. There can, however, be incentives to encourage them.
Part of the problem is fear and mistrust. Studies show a lower rate of vaccination among haredim (ultra-Orthodox) and the Arab sector, partly because of greater mistrust in the government in general. It is essential that public information programs be launched for specific communities within those same communities. Programs need to be created by native speakers of the relevant language: Yiddish for the haredim, Arabic for Israeli Arabs, etc. The initiative offering free cholent last Thursday to those receiving the vaccination in Bnei Brak was not a cheap gimmick. It was a welcome effort to turn the vaccination into something positive beyond the health benefits.
Shaul Amsterdamski, economic affairs reporter with KAN broadcasting, last week suggested that one positive reinforcement could be giving economic stimulus payments only to those who are vaccinated.
Currently, it is not clear what the certificate of vaccination actually grants the holder. There must be better information programs to let people know the benefits of being vaccinated, and not just the health benefits. Will places of entertainment, hotels, soccer stadiums, gyms, etc. be open only to those who hold a valid certificate of vaccination? Does the certificate exempt the holder from the need for quarantine if they come into contact with an infected person?
There is a great deal of disinformation and many conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccination. More attention needs to be paid to explaining exactly what is involved, the safety and testing measures that have been taken, and the fact that millions of people have now safely received these vaccines. The risks of the novel coronavirus should be pointed out. The dangers of this disease, and the possible long-term effects on those who have ostensibly recovered, need to be weighed against the feared risks from the vaccination.
Threats do not encourage people to go out and get vaccinated, especially people who lack trust in the authorities and medical system. On the contrary, threats can backfire.
Israel is fortunate to have a sufficient supply of vaccines to inoculate everyone over the age of 16. This opportunity should not be wasted. The key to success is positive reinforcement.