Israel has vaccinated a higher percentage of its citizens against the coronavirus than any other country. More than half of the adult population has received the two inoculations. Still, about 40% of Israelis have not participated. Some worry about potential side effects; others don’t believe that the vaccines serve any useful purpose; and still others simply refuse to participate for different reasons. A recent survey found about 25% of Israelis who haven’t been vaccinated are not planning to do so.
With this mixture of good and bad news, Israel’s Health Ministry last week announced adoption of a plan, similar to that used in a few other countries, that is designed to reward and conquer vaccine-phobic citizenry: The Green Passport, or Green Pass — a phone app for any Israeli who has been immunized or has recovered from COVID-19. All one needs to do is show a Green Pass in order to gain access to the gym, the theater or restaurants, or to go to a sporting event or the swimming pool. All others will be banned.
To be sure, street-front shops, malls, markets, museums and libraries are now largely open to all Israelis after the most recent six-week shutdown. But not all places are universally available. The passport is designed to be a form of reward for Israelis who have participated in the national inoculation program, and have received a green merit badge for doing so. And while Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said no one is obligated to be vaccinated and won’t be separately punished if they aren’t, the government is clearly hoping that the benefits of the Green Pass will act as an inducement.
As with other aspects of Israel’s COVID actions, other Western countries are looking at the Green Passport as something of a test case. But few will be able to duplicate its potential success. Unlike many other countries, Israel has enough vaccine for all of its people. Its relatively small population can be reached easily and in relatively short order. And its centralized health system enables the collection of compliance data on virtually all citizens.
Still, we wonder how confident Israelis will become as more people are able to flash the Green Passport. Masks and social distancing are still the rule. And the app has been criticized as being easy to forge. This has led to warnings from the government of “uncompromising punishment” for counterfeits. In addition, the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are being inoculated at a much lower rate than Israelis. This has led to international criticism that Israel is not vaccinating everyone under its control. It also raises questions about how an inoculated population in a land without defined borders can live side by side with a population of roughly the same size that has not been similarly vaccinated.
We join the rest of the world in watching the roll-out of Israel’s Green Passport program, and applaud the effort to encourage all citizens to participate in the comprehensive vaccination effort.