Tel Aviv rolls out COVID vaccines for illegal foreign nationals and undocumented asylum seekers
By David E. Kaplan
This was the exclamation of a participant from South Africa on a business Zoom meeting three weeks ago in January after asking the six other participants – all from Israel – whether they had had the COVID-19 vaccination. Far from being out of the woods, Israel so far has outpaced every other nation in vaccinating its people, nearing 40% of its population.
Hearing in the affirmative that all the faces staring at him on his computer screen partnered arms that had all been inoculated, the Zoom participant from Johannesburg concluded his “WOW!” with:
“You guys don’t realise how fortunate you are.”
It’s not only Israel’s citizens that are “FORTUNATE” but also the migrant workers in Israel from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Moldova, China and Nigeria, as well as Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who are receiving the Pfizer- BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Tel Aviv COVID-19 Vaccination Center in the southern part of city – home to large migrant community.
As part of an initiative to inoculate the city’s foreign nationals, Tel Aviv City Hall and the Sourasky Medical Center started administering vaccines free of charge to the city’s foreign nationals, many of whom are undocumented asylum seekers. This was all visually evident on Tuesday, 9th February – the first day of the operation – as dozens of asylum seekers and foreign workers in Tel Aviv lined up outside the building to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Posters provided information in English, Tigrinya, Russian and Arabic.
“I am very happy,” Indian national Garipelly Srinivas Goud told Associated Press. Lamenting that foreign workers in Israel don’t have the money or insurance to afford paying privately for the vaccine, Goud, who has been working in Israel for eight years, welcomed the vaccine drive as a “very good decision.”
While it is the government’s responsibility to vaccinate everybody within the nation’s borders, Tel Aviv municipality spokesman Eytan Schwartz, said that the city would take the next step and start “to vaccinate the illegal or undocumented asylum seekers as well.”
With Open Arms
Israel is also extending its helping hand into the arms of others.
While far from completing vaccinating its own population – having thus far delivered over 3.5 million first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and at least 2.1 million second doses – it has nevertheless started providing the Palestinian Authority (PA) with thousands of vaccines for its healthcare workers, despite ultimate responsibility for health services and vaccine acquisition falling upon the PA, which is elected by Palestinians to govern the West Bank.
After receiving thousands of doses from Israel, the Palestinian Health Ministry administered its first known coronavirus vaccinations last Tuesday, announcing in its statement the start of the campaign, saying Health Minister Mai al-Kaila received a first dose along with several front-line medical workers. Disappointing although hardly surprising, the statement failed to acknowledge that Israel provided the vaccines. While acknowledging the receipt of 2,000 doses on Monday the 8th February — the first batch of vaccines sent by Israel — the PA did not say where they came from.
This follows a regrettable pattern.
Back in May 2020, Covid relief aid from the UAE was rejected by the Palestinian leadership because it arrived by freight plane to Israel’s international airport without prior coordination with the PA. This resulted in 14 tons of virally needed Covid-relief medical supplies languishing at Ben Gurion airport because the PA refused to accept delivery so as not to be seen as condoning the normalizing of ties between Israel and the Arab world.
Disregarding the health of his people, the PA Health Ministry medical services director Osama al-Najjar explained that Ramallah “cannot accept shipments that are a gateway to normalization between Arab countries and Israel.”
Asked what he thought would happen to the medical supplies, al-Najjar responded, “I do not know where they will go, but we won’t accept them. They’re free to do with them what they please, but we will neither accept them nor welcome them.”
However, al-Najjar did acknowledge that the PA is “in need of ventilators.”
Within Arm’s Reach
What we are “all in need of” is better understanding and cooperation as there are no borders when it comes to the health of the planet and its vulnerable citizens. Israeli epidemiologists agree that it is in Israel’s interest to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated as quickly as possible, as the populations are too intertwined to have one gain herd immunity without the other. As recently departed Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told The Times of Israel in January, “The message is very simple: We are one epidemiological unit. As much as we can, we have to help them address this matter.”
To that end, Israel and Tel Aviv are proving to be ‘shot in the arm’ for a healthier world.
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO)