Later this month the government will begin enforcing new rules requiring people to get a booster shot of the Covid-19 vaccine or present a negative test if they want to go to restaurants, bars or other indoor entertainment spots. The boosters are needed to keep “Green Pass” Covid passports valid, which authorities view as an effective way of nudging as many people as possible to get a third shot of the vaccine to boost immunity and reduce the virus’s spread through the population.
Yet while many younger Israelis were happy to get their initial doses of the Pfizer Inc. – BioNTech SE vaccine, this time they aren’t so willing. Some say they feel they are being pushed toward a third shot before enforcement of the program begins on Oct. 17, and would prefer to wait, saying they believe they are still protected from severe cases of Covid despite health officials’ efforts to convince them they can prevent long Covid cases.
Just over a quarter of 16-to-19-year-olds have received a booster along with 40% of 20-to-29-year-olds and 47% of 30-to-39-year-olds, according to Israel’s health ministry. This is compared with older groups, such as 65% for 50-to-59-year-olds and 75% for 60-to-69-year-olds. The numbers are weighed down in part by wider hesitancy among younger Arab and ultraorthodox Israelis.
Experts say doubts by younger people over boosters could be a harbinger for what other countries might expect as they begin to roll out third shots, and raises the prospect that transmission of the virus could continue.
“Younger people are less afraid of the coronavirus,” said Tamar Hermann, who has been conducting opinion polls on vaccine policy at the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute. “Some are confused and bewildered whether they are really at such a risk or it’s part of the government propaganda.”
On Monday, Europe’s top health regulator recommended boosters for anyone 18 and over who had received their second shot of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The U.K. has begun providing boosters to anyone over 50, while the U.S. is offering them to over 65s and people in high-risk groups.
But in Israel, which began vaccinating widely before many other countries, some younger people this time say they feel they are being coerced into having the third shot.
“Everyone is saying they are just getting the third vaccine just to keep their rights,” said Dan Rushansky, 33, who owns a bar and separate cafe in the young and hip neighborhood of Florentine in Tel Aviv.
Mr. Rushansky said that he and 10 of his 20 employees haven’t yet
gotten a third shot, and the same is true of much of his clientele. He said he closed his cafe on Tuesday believing it would no longer be profitable under the new Covid-19 pass regime.
Aliza Petrack, 32, a philosophy student at Tel Aviv University, said she felt frustrated by the rigidity of the new regulations. Rather than rushing to get a third shot and risk the side effects, even if they are mild, she said she got an antibody test and learned she was still well protected from her previous shots.
Now Ms. Petrack said she feels she’s being forced into getting a third shot earlier than she would have because otherwise she won’t be able to attend classes on campus.
“It’s frustrating that there’s no kind of common-sense policy,” she said. When she got her first two shots, she said she felt Israel was “in line with the global medical community. Now Israel is kind of doing it’s own thing.”
Israel’s Covid-19 passes were initially to be linked to the third shot beginning on Oct. 7, but that was pushed back because of technical problems. Meanwhile, pickup rates for the booster shots are accelerating as the enforcement date nears, but it isn’t necessarily because young people want to get them or believe they will improve their protection against Covid-19. It’s to keep their passes.
“Everyone wants to have a normal life, so people are getting their third shot,” said Shon Weizman, 27, who works at a wine bar in Tel Aviv.
Israel’s Covid-19 strategy is closely watched in the rest of the world.
Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio that U.S. regulators are waiting for data from Israel’s military to understand the risk-benefit analysis of giving boosters for younger adults.
Dr. Fauci said the regulators were particularly interested in understanding the risk for young people developing a rare side effect of heart muscle inflammation called myocarditis after receiving a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine, and that he believed the U.S. would ultimately follow Israel’s lead on boosters.
Israel’s health ministry has published data indicating that the booster shots cause fewer side effects than the initial vaccinations and provide a significant increase in resistance to the virus compared with people who received their second five months or more previously. Officials and medical professionals credit the booster campaign for tamping down a wave of infections and severe illness from the contagious Delta variant.
But some suggested the government should be more flexible in enforcing the new Covid-19 pass rules, and focus more on communicating the benefits of the third shot instead.
Nadav Davidovitch, head of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians and director of the School of Public Health at Ben Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, thinks this is particularly true among Arab and ultraorthodox youngsters who have been slower to take up boosters, because infection rates have been higher in the latter group and many are still recovering from the virus.
“I think maybe we need to give some more time and invest more in health promotion to be targeted to specific groups,” Dr. Davidovitch said.
—Thomas Grove in Tel Aviv contributed to this article.
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