Expert speaker

Leading Israeli health official urges vaccine uptake

In Israel, more than three million people have now received the first vaccine shot.

Professor Gabi Barbash.
Professor Gabi Barbash.

AN adeptness in improvising under a crisis has enabled Israel’s successful COVID vaccination program, according to former director-general of the Israeli Health Ministry, Professor Gabi Barbash.

“Israel has responded very quickly … We are very good at improvising – and not so good in long-term planning – and we are used to clashing with situations that we could have avoided if we would have started [earlier] and prepared ourselves,” Barbash told The AJN in advance of his appearance at UIA’s TEDx inspired gala event on February 23.

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Barbash is set to speak in a panel discussion entitled “Innovation – From COVID-19 Vaccines to Medical Device Cyber Security – How Israel Innovation is Leading the World”, with co-founder and CEO of Sternum Natali Tshuva.

While the vaccination roll-out has been relatively effective in Israel, Barbash emphasised it is now a matter of convincing sceptics of its importance.

“This calls for collaboration between the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Education and so on,” he said.

Positive management tools, Barbash suggested, include reminding sceptics they will have fewer restrictions around movement, and won’t need to isolate if vaccinated.

Another approach involves, for example, reminding a school teacher that in staying unvaccinated they are “endangering themselves and the students”.

“I cannot force them to take the vaccine but I can tell them that they cannot come to the class unless they do a PCR test every two days,” said Barbash, who is at the forefront of Israel’s efforts to combat the pandemic, and is also the director of the Weizmann Institute’s Bench-to-Bedside program.

In Israel, more than three million people have now received the first vaccine shot.

Tracing societal responses to coronavirus, Barbash commented, “Public confidence in science is deteriorating and that influences public adherence or willingness to listen to science.”

This deterioration, he explained, has arisen within a broader context, particularly in relation to environmental matters.

“Increased resistance from businesspeople and the industry has caused a lot of criticism towards science,” said Barbash. “It started there but COVID-19 attitudes were based on that background.”

Other guests at the UIA gala, which will feature a series of live panels (available through online streaming or by attendance in person), include Israel’s former deputy prime minister Dan Meridor, politician and former chief of staff of the IDF Moshe ‘Bogie’ Ya’alon, and celebrity chef and restaurateur Meir Adoni.


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