COVID-19 vaccine
COVID-19 vaccineiStock

Israel does not currently need a COVID vaccine mandate, a top Health Ministry official said Sunday, but added that such a mandate could potentially become necessary in the future.

Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash spoke with Radio 103FM Sunday, touching on coronavirus Czar Prof. Salman Zarka’s recent comments suggesting that Israel should consider imposing a sweeping COVID vaccine mandate.

Ash rejected the imposition of such a mandate at this time, saying he favored steps to encourage the public to get the COVID jab, but said the government may have to make coronavirus vaccines mandatory if and when more virulent strains of the virus are identified.

“There still is no place to consider a vaccine mandate,” Ash said. “I think that we still need to work on encouraging [people]; making it mandatory is something we haven’t done thus far.”

But, Ash continued, “there could certainly be situations in which the risks increase, and the danger becomes extreme.”

“If there’ll be a very dangerous variant and there won’t be responsiveness [from the public], it will be necessary to make [vaccines] mandatory.”

Ash warned that the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, “has not declined”.

“The variant is spreading rapidly in South Africa and we don’t know fully what happens with the vaccines.”

Turning to comments by a coalition lawmaker over the weekend who criticized the mass-vaccination campaign for young children, Ash said MKs “need to express things differently.”

“The message to the public needs to be different.”

Last Wednesday, Zarka said Israel should consider imposing broad sanctions on unvaccinated citizens, and weigh a possible vaccine mandate.

"I think that we need to examine all the options, including the option of making the vaccine mandatory in the State of Israel."

Prof. Zarka emphasized, "This is my stance, and right now it does not reflect any action on this matter - not in the Health Ministry, and not in the government."

He added, "Israel's approach is more understanding - and that comes with a price."

"I don't know of legal work in the field," Prof. Zarka noted. "There is no legislative process or team work on legislation which is on the table right now. Right now we are not, practically, in a place where a law will be enacted by surprise, to require vaccination. I think that what is happening in Austria, placing a lockdown only on those who are unvaccinated, is not appropriate. I think it's a problematic slippery slope."