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Israeli immunity hinges on Palestinians getting COVID shots too, doctors say

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Ahmad Sheib, a Palestinian resident of Tulkarem, has followed news of the stunningly successful Israeli vaccination drive against coronavirus with envy.

“We’ll get it much later, and we’ll get Chinese or Russian or who knows what,” said Sheib, who works for an Israeli agricultural firm. “For now, I’m not holding my breath.”

While Israel has sprinted ahead in immunizing its population against the coronavirus — 21% of Israelis have received at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine — Palestinians have yet to receive any doses and likely won’t for several months, sparking a blistering debate over whether Israel should work to ensure Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are included in its vaccination drive.

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Critics say Israel has a moral and legal obligation to ensure Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are afforded vaccinations along with Israeli citizens, while Israeli officials maintain that vaccinations for Palestinians are not its primary responsibility and will only be considered once all Israelis are inoculated.

Israeli epidemiologists told The Times of Israel that it is in Israel’s overall 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, despite some claims to the contrary by Israeli leaders.

“The message is very simple: We are one epidemiological unit. As much as we can, we have to help them address this matter,” a recently departed senior Israeli Health Ministry official told The Times of Israel.

With the vaccine unsuitable for children until testing is carried out and only 95% effective, most experts see herd immunity, the idea that the virus will fade away without enough hosts to latch onto, as the only real way to return to normal life. A Palestinian medical team works in the coronavirus department at the Dura hospital near the West Bank city of Hebron, January 13, 2021. (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

It’s not known at what point collective protection kicks in, but is often estimated at 60 percent to 80% depending on various factors including the transmissibility of the virus.

Israel anticipates having 5.2 million citizens vaccinated by March, which, together with the estimated number of people who have already gotten the virus, will be around 65 percent of the population of 9.25 million. But add in another 3 million West Bank residents and the ratio of those immunized drops to just below 50 percent. Include Gaza, as some epidemiologists do, and the percentage drops even lower.

“They have to be part of the picture. We ignore them at our peril. We are really endangering our population if we do so,” said Dr. Manfred Green, an expert in vaccines who was the founding director of the Health Ministry’s Israel Center for Disease Control.

Separated by checkpoints and conflict, the daily lives of many Israelis and Palestinians are in other ways very much intertwined. Over 100,000 Palestinians regularly cross into Israel or Israeli settlements for work, often moving back and forth, according to workers’ rights group Kav LaOved.

“There are Palestinians who come to work in Israel and........

© The Times of Israel

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