Both Israeli and Palestinian prisoners will be included in the country's national vaccination drive.
Israel will administer COVID-19 vaccinations to prisoners starting next week, the health minister confirmed on Thursday, following a wave of criticism from human rights groups and Israel’s own president that failure to do so would violate the detainees’ basic rights.
Israel’s public security minister, Amir Ohana, had ordered the Israeli Prison Service not to vaccinate detainees, including Palestinian security prisoners. Ohana had called for vaccinations to be given only to prison guards.
In a letter to Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin raised concerns that the directive ran counter to Israel’s “sacred Jewish and Democratic values.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday urged his rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to intervene, writing in an emergency appeal that “beyond being illegal, this move is also impeding national efforts to battle the coronavirus."
A spokesperson for Edelstein confirmed on Thursday that prisoners would be administered the vaccine beginning next week. The news came the same day the Palestinian Prisoner Society announced that seven more prisoners in southern Israel’s Rimon Prison had contracted the virus, raising the current number of cases in the facility to 30.
Israel is the world leader in per capita vaccinations, having so far inoculated roughly 20% of the population. Netanyahu said earlier this month that his government hopes to vaccinate all 9 million citizens and residents of Israel by the end of March.
Israel hasn’t sent the Palestinian Authority, which manages its own health care system, a major shipment of doses, and the Palestinians haven’t publicly asked for one. This week, the Israel government acknowledged having delivered 100 vaccines to the PA as a “humanitarian gesture.”
The West Bank and Gaza are also enrolled in the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative, a purchasing pool to deliver vaccinations to poorer countries.
Still, a group of United Nations human rights experts on Thursday urged Israel to ensure vaccines are made available to the more than 4.5 million Palestinians who “will remain unprotected and exposed to COVID-19, while Israeli citizens living near and among them — including the Israeli settler population — will be vaccinated."
“Morally and legally, this differential access to necessary health care in the midst of the worst global health crisis in a century is unacceptable," the experts said in a statement.
More than 160,000 Palestinians have tested positive for the coronavirus since March, and more than 1,700 deaths from the virus have been reported across the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel continues to register a record high number of coronavirus cases. The Health Ministry logged 8,667 new infections on Wednesday, bringing the total to more than 517,000.