It’s not being reflected in the English-language media, but one of the top headlines in the Hebrew press this morning was the abrupt dismissal of the director general of the Ministry of Education, reportedly amid a dispute over vaccinating school children against COVID-19.
On Sunday evening, Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton sent a letter to her office’s director, Yigal Slovik, informing him that his employment would be terminated at the end of December.
Immediately the press began to speculate that the move was a result of the two not seeing eye-to-eye regarding the vaccination of Israeli school children against COVID-19. Israel recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11, and the government has been urging parents to take the opportunity to “protect their children.”
The question has been whether vaccines for youngsters should be administered at the same stations where everyone else receives them, or if kids should be offered the jab on school premises.
There is concern that if the vaccine is offered at school, peer pressure could push children whose parents don’t yet want them to take the Pfizer vaccine to do so anyway. Israeli schools already offer flu and other vaccines on school grounds, so it is not an unusual move. But recent polls show that a majority of Israeli parents remain unconvinced to jab their own children with a vaccine that has not undergone thorough testing.
Back in July, after Israel approved vaccines for children aged 12-15, Shasha-Biton told Channel 12 that while she wanted to see all these children vaccinated, she was strongly opposed to setting up vaccination stations in schools. In fact, at the time, she said doing so would be “criminal.”
“Go out and get vaccinated. No one is saying otherwise,” said the Education Minister. “But to do that at schools is criminal, in my estimation. We are talking about children who have been stuck at home for a year-and-a-half and who are on edge emotionally. It is a sensitive topic that will put undue pressure on these children.”
That was Shasha-Biton’s reaction when the government wanted to vaccinate middle-schoolers on school grounds. Now that the government is mulling the same for elementary aged children, most assumed the minister’s feelings were the same, thus leading to a clash with her office director, Slovik.
But speaking to Channel 12 News on Monday, she insisted that the entire affair was being misrepresented, and that she now is in favor of school vaccinations.
“This is internet trolling. I have no objection to vaccinating children at school,” stated Shasha-Biton. “I am in favor of making ‘Vaccination Day’ a record day for classroom health.”
As for Slovik, the minister explained that the two simply had too many unbridgeable gaps in their approaches, and that his employment was terminated on “professional grounds.”
No 4th COVID shot, for now
In related news, Israel’s Health Ministry advisory board decided on Sunday against recommending a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot (second booster) for the time being.
While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Ministry Nitzan Horowitz hinted last week that Israel would begin administering a fourth vaccine shot early next year, the advisory panel said it was more important at this time to focus on getting all Israel’s vaccinated with three doses.
“There’s consensus on the need to deepen the vaccination of populations that have not yet completed three doses and to bolster the protection of at-risk populations,” read a statement published by the board.