Israel’s vaccination program has been remarkably swift and successful. In recent weeks, new coronavirus infections have dropped significantly, from a peak of 10,000 a day in January to a few hundred by late March. The economy has almost fully reopened.
And just as Israel became a real-world laboratory for the efficacy of the vaccine, it is now becoming a test case for a post-lockdown, post-vaccinated society.
The Green Pass, a document that can be downloaded to a smartphone, is the entry ticket.
Green Pass holders may dine indoors in restaurants, stay in hotels and attend cultural, sports and religious gatherings in the thousands both indoors and out. They can go to gyms, swimming pools and the theater. They can get married in wedding halls.
Local newspapers and television stations are advertising summer getaways for the fully vaccinated in countries prepared to take them, including Greece, Georgia and the Seychelles.
Restaurants ask those booking tables: Do you have a Green Pass? Are you vaccinated?
The system is imperfect, and, beyond the Green Pass, in many ways “system” may be an overstatement. Enforcement has been patchy. There are troubling questions about those who are not vaccinated and noisy debates playing out in real time — some landing in court — about the rules and responsibilities of the return to near normalcy.
Moreover, there’s no guarantee that this really is the start of a post-pandemic future. Any number of factors — delays in vaccine production, the emergence of a new vaccine-resistant variant and the huge numbers of Israelis who remain unvaccinated — could rip the rug out from under it.
The new world has also underscored the inequities and divides between societies with more or less access to the vaccine. Many in the West Bank and Gaza have not been able to get vaccinations yet.
The Palestinian vaccination campaign is just getting started, with doses largely donated by other countries amid a bitter debate over Israel’s legal and moral obligations for the health of people in territory it occupies. Israel has vaccinated about 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel or in West Bank settlements but has been criticized for not doing more.
More than 5.2 million Israelis have received at least one shot of the Pfizer vaccine. About four million remain unvaccinated, half of them people under 16 who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine pending regulatory approvals and further testing on children. Hundreds of thousands of citizens who have recovered from Covid-19 were only recently included in Israel’s vaccination program.
And up to a million people have so far chosen not to get vaccinated, despite Israel’s enviable supply of doses.