'Another way of thanking': Israel vaccinates over 30,000 OFWs

Israel, a wold leader in its rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines, distributed Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 shot for free to over 30,000 Filipino workers in the country. 

The embassy of Israel in the Philippines said on Wednesday, March 17, that the free vaccinations covered Filipinos who worked as caregivers, along with 400 agriculture students, and staff of the Philippine embassy in Israel.

“Israel is thankful for the Filipino caregivers for helping the elderly and the disabled Israeli citizens during the COVID-19 outbreak…. The free access to COVID-19 vaccines is another way of thanking them and ensuring their health and safety,” said Israel Ambassador to the Philippines Rafael Harpaz. 

Along with Filipino caregivers, embassy staff, and students, Israel said it had also given free vaccines to Filipinos with expired working permits.

Under Israel’s inoculation program, its Ministry of Health provides free vaccines for “anyone who is in Israel, regardless of their citizenship status or whether or not they have insurance.”

Israel has managed to administer one vaccine dose to 5.2 million or at least half of its 9.3 million population. Another 4.2 million, meanwhile, were already fully vaccinated after getting both shots of the Pfizer vaccine.

Harpaz touted the vaccinations as one way of fulfilling Israel’s agreement with the Philippines to regulate the working conditions of Filipinos in the country. The agreement was signed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Israel in 2018. 

Harpaz said the Israeli government has been providing the Filipino caregivers with full access to medical care in the country for years, even before the pandemic. 

Since the pandemic broke out a year ago, Israel has delivered aid to the Philippines to respond to the health crisis. Among its donations are personal protective equipment to the Department of National Defense and the Philippine National Police for use of their frontliners, education equipment to aid the Department fo Education with its distance learning, and exchange of information on emergency and pandemic response with Philippine officials. 

On Twitter, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said that the government would likewise vaccinate the "entire diplomatic corps and their staff" in return when doses of Moderna's vaccine start arriving in the country.

In a separate forum, Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr said Israel also signified its intent to donate some of its extra vaccine doses to the Philippines.

Like in Israel, Filipino nurses have been recognized worldwide for their contribution to foreign health systems across Europe, the Middle East, and North America, among others. 

But while many have been hailed for their dedication, their service on the front lines also means Filipino health workers have been one of the hardest-hit groups, suffering from high death rates during the pandemic. For decades, Filipino nurses have also opted to work abroad due to low wages and poor working conditions in their home country. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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