The Vaccination Disparity Between Israel and Palestine

Earlier this month, Israel released its latest Voice Index, a monthly survey which canvasses the present state of public opinion in Israel. Each Voice Index tends to focus on a few salient issues. The primary issue of this month was COVID-19, particularly the impact the pandemic has had on people in Israel.

The main finding was that 55% of people asked said that they have had to make ‘substantial changes’ to their daily lives as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Moreover, 45% of people said that the pandemic has forced them to ‘rethink their lives’, such as by changing their career or by putting their studies on hold.

Predictably, the majority of people who said they have made significant changes were younger, aged between 25 and 34. Older people and people from traditional religious groups tended to make the least amount of change on average.

The Current COVID Situation in Israel:

The Voice Index underscores the rational concern Israelis have had over the coronavirus pandemic. Importantly, the Index has been released against the backdrop of an alarming COVID situation in Israel. COVID cases are increasing very rapidly as a result of the Omicron variant. Last week, Israel experienced the highest number of cases it has ever had in a single week, and this week is set to surpass that number. In January alone this year, more cases have been confirmed than the entirety of last year, as more than 1.1 million people have tested positive.

Although deaths do not remain as high as they have been in the past, thanks largely to Israel’s comprehensive vaccination programme, they too are rising quite quickly. Whereas last month there was on average 10 deaths a week, there have been close to 200 in the past week.

Israel’s Vaccination Programme:

In early 2021, Israel was a world leader in rolling out the COVID vaccine. For the first half of last year, Israel was the country with the highest percentage of their population vaccinated. Although they have since been surpassed in this respect by other countries, Israel still takes the COVID situation very seriously and has invested heavily into its vaccination programme, with two thirds of its population being fully vaccinated.

A big feature of Israel’s current COVID plan is to roll out a fourth vaccination to more adults. At present, a fourth vaccination is limited to people over 60 and to younger people at significant risk. But now the Government is taking seriously a recommendation from a vaccine advisory panel to roll out a fourth vaccination to all adults over 18 in order to combat the recent surge, which will be a world first.

The Vaccination Disparity with Palestine:

The robustness of Israel’s vaccination programme is in sharp contrast, however, to the situation in Palestine. Whereas Israel has administered close to 18 million COVID vaccines and is seemingly ready to roll out a fourth dose to all adults, Palestine has administered only 3.4 million. The result is that, according to Our World in Data, just over one quarter of people in Palestine are fully vaccinated, compared to two thirds in Israel.

Palestine has struggled to gain access to COVID vaccines. They have had to rely quite heavily on the UN’s COVAX programme, which is an organisation aimed at ensuring fair and equal access to vaccinations. On 30th December 2021, Palestine received its largest COVAX shipment of more than 450,000 doses, funded primarily by Germany and Italy. Thus, whilst Palestine is improving considerably on the vaccine front, it continues to remain significantly unequipped to respond to the pandemic.

Palestine’s lack of access to vaccines not only has a detrimental impact on the health of Palestinians, but it also has a detrimental impact on the economy, by prolonging tighter restrictions, as well as on the conditions of the millions of Palestinians living in poverty.

A Need for Greater Co-Operation:

Considering how seriously Israel have taken the COVID situation, it is somewhat surprising that they have not done more to assist Palestine in combatting the pandemic, even for purely selfish reasons. That does not mean there have not been efforts from both sides to co-operate, but ultimately the self-destructiveness of the seemingly endless political conflict has transported itself into the fight against COVID-19.

Co-operation was more fruitful at the beginning of the pandemic and Israel has sent some vaccinations to Palestine. But a major turning point came at the failure of the proposed vaccine swap deal in June 2021. Palestine was set to receive at least one million vaccines from Israel that would soon expire, and in return Palestine would give Israel a similar number of vaccines it was set to receive later in the year. However, at the last minute, Palestinian authorities cancelled the arrangement on the pretext that the jabs expired much sooner than agreed and would be of minimal use. Israel, of course, disagreed with this assessment and co-operation has been problematic since.

There are many legal arguments, let alone compassionate arguments, which indicate that Israel should have greater responsibility over Palestine’s vaccination response. For instance, in January 2021, the UN released a statement saying that it was Israel’s responsibility to ensure equal access to vaccines for Palestine under the Geneva Conventions. Israel would be undermining the right to health of Palestinians if it failed to fulfil this obligation.

Yet, Israel have ultimately failed to fulfil this obligation, despite it being to their advantage. Co-operation, particularly with vaccinations, has the potential to save lives on both sides. Genuine co-operation in the common fight against coronavirus may also go some ways towards facilitating greater co-operation between Israel and Palestine in other respects.

Israel may be currently pre-occupied with the recent surge of COVID infections, and many will look internally in order to respond to the current crisis. However, there is a great advantage to looking externally, to looking at co-operation with the State of Palestine and helping them by supplying vaccinations. This would be a great benefit even if Israel acts merely as a matter of self-interest, to assist them in their own fight against the pandemic, if it is not done out of compassion.

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