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Green Passport meant to incentivize vaccination not lower infection, Israeli health minister says

Israeli Cabinet ministers caught on hot mic saying Green Passport has no epidemiological evidence for outdoor venues

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz (right) speaks to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked ahead of a Cabinet meeting on Sept. 12, 2021. (Photo: screenshot)

The vaccine passport has no epidemiological relevance, according to Israel’s health minister, it is simply a means to restrict the unvaccinated from certain venues in the hopes of persuading them to get the COVID shot.

Nitzan Horowitz was caught on a hot mic telling Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked during a meeting that this was the purpose of imposing Green Passport restrictions. Footage of the conversation has gone viral in Israel after first being broadcast by Channel 12.

Shaked: “I think you can remove the Green Passport for restaurants, outside.”

Horowitz: “Pools, too, not just restaurants – from an epidemiological viewpoint, that is correct. The problem is, people who don’t get vaccinated. We need to…”

Shaked: “Right.”

Horowitz: “Otherwise, we’ll never get out of this.”

Horowitz added that he believes the unvaccinated should be barred from malls as well. Currently, malls and supermarkets do not require vaccination status to enter.

“There is a kind of universality to the ‘green pass’ system, other than at malls, where I think it should be imposed, [because] now it’s clear that it applies nowhere,” he said.

But he also explained that despite the lack of evidence that restricting outdoor activities reduces infections, making the regulations universal was easier than making exceptions.

“Because then they will say, why for pools and not water parks and attractions?” Horowitz said.

“We don’t want to do things that have no medical justification. But I’m telling you, we have a problem. The ‘green pass’ isn’t even being enforced; certainly not in the Arab sector, where it doesn’t exist at all. And I’m seeing the effect on the hospitals.”

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern then joined the conversation.

“It’s irritating that they’re taking up [hospital] beds,” Stern said he said of the unvaccinated.

“Those in intensive care, yes,” Horowitz said.

Israel has long banked on a warp-speed vaccination campaign in order to beat the pandemic. For a couple of months, the fast rollout of the vaccine saw promising results as Israel, one of the world's most highly vaccinated nations, all but eradicated the coronavirus. But a recent surge in infections this summer not only saw the renewal of COVID restrictions, it also brought on the world's first booster campaign.

On Sunday, borrowing a line from U.S. President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “tolerance for the unvaccinated has run out.”

Last week, when announcing sweeping federal vaccine mandates for employment, Biden said his “patience is wearing thin” for the unvaccinated.

This is not the first time Bennett took a line from Biden. A few weeks ago, Bennett also called this fourth wave of COVID infections a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” as did Biden.

On several occasions, Bennett used inflammatory language about Israelis who haven’t been vaccinated calling them “dangerous” and implying that “vaccine refusers” are ticking time bombs walking around with machine guns.

“It’s as if you’re walking around with a machine gun firing Delta variants at people,” he said.

When encouraging more teens to get vaccinated, Bennett used more military imagery saying that children “bombard adults with viruses, which ultimately, if you bombard enough, infects.”

“Like a flak jacket, it has its limitations. So also the young people who have not yet been vaccinated – go get vaccinated,” he said at the Aug. 1 Cabinet meeting.

And in July, Bennett said “those who refuse vaccines are endangering their health, those around them and the freedom of every Israeli citizen.”

The Green Passport is set to expire for those who have recovered from COVID or received their second shot six or more months ago and are now eligible for a third shot. Those who get a booster will have their papers extended for six months.

Without the Green Passport or a valid negative COVID test, all Israelis – 3 years old and up – are unable to enter restaurants, pools, houses of worship and even some outdoor attractions such as the zoo.

The lack of epidemiological evidence for mandating such a decision is not new. Shaked herself told a news show that the Green Passport was simply a way to drive up vaccination rates and not a scientific means in and of itself.

Meanwhile, in another leaked recording, a top Pfizer executive called Israel a “sort of laboratory” for the company’s vaccine. Channel 12 reported the comments of Philip Dormitzer, the chief scientific officer at Pfizer, on Friday.

“Early in the pandemic we established a relationship with the Israeli Ministry of Health where they used exclusively the Pfizer vaccine and then monitored it very closely,” Dormitzer said during a Zoom meeting. “So we had a sort of laboratory where we could see the effect.”

Israel “immunized a very high proportion of the population very early, so it’s been a way that we can almost look ahead: What we see happening in Israel happens again in the U.S. a couple months later.”

Israeli health officials rejected the categorization and noted that the country also purchased a supply of Moderna’s mRNA injection.

Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash said Israel does not have an exclusivity deal with Pfizer and that those over 18 who are getting the booster shot would get the Moderna shot instead.

“I am not prepared to use the word ‘laboratory.’ Yes, the company is learning from us about the [effectiveness] of the third dose, but there is no connection to harming the interests of Israeli citizens,” Ash said.

Pfizer later clarified: “The country does not serve as a laboratory, but rather, as the first nation to achieve significant rates of vaccine uptake, it was able to evaluate real world vaccine and duration of protection, and share data with the world.”

Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS

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