Prof. Sadetzki: It's not over despite the vaccinations

Israel's former Health Ministry head of public health services cautions against thinking the vaccine will vanquish the virus.

Prof. Siegal Sadetzki is full of praise for the success of Israel's vaccination drive but insists it may not be enough to vanquish the virus. She is a professor in Tel Aviv University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine but is best known as the former head of public health services at the Ministry of Health, who quit in protest because she felt Israel was coming too quickly out of the first lockdown.

Just as Israel had declared victory over Covid-19 before she resigned from the Ministry of Health in July, so she again cautions against thinking that the battle has been won.

She said, "It really isn't over now, despite the vaccinations. We are a global village and most of the world does not have the vaccine and won't have in the near future. There are mutations that will probably be more infectious for children and there are groups that are not vaccinating. It's true that the vaccine is a game-changer and gives hope to all of us but it requires more months, until we will achieve the targets of the vaccination, and even then there will be more challenges. So will it be over in a few moments? Maybe, but we must prepare for a situation in which it is not. After all who thought that almost one year after the first lockdown, we would again be in lockdown?"

Prof. Sadetzki hit the headlines in July for her scathing criticism of the awkward and rapid way Israel had come out of the first lockdown, according to "unprofessional" targets set by the Knesset and the cabinet, in contradiction to the advice from the Ministry of Health. She has returned to academia to research cancer and radiation. Prof. Sadetzki is convinced the subsequent lockdowns could have been avoided and generally charges the politicians with being slow to respond, and reactive rather than proactive. "Decisions were taken that were inconsistent from an epidemiological point of view and in terms of public trust."

She dismisses criticism of the Ministry of Health's senior officials. "The decisions were right overall and clearly Israel deserves points for its management of the first wave in a period when we didn't know anything. I remember our first meeting with the National Security Council. People simply didn't understand how a pandemic works had to be managed. The WHO declared the pandemic on March 11 and by then Israel had managed to do a lot, including closed borders, regulations, an epidemiological investigation system. We read the map correctly, we invented the wheel, and earned critical time. Every border that we closed and every chain of infection that we cut off at the start of the process, through isolation of those returning from abroad, brought us significant time to organize. If there was a mistake, it was that we closed the border to Italy a few days too late and we also missed by a few days with the US. We had the advantage of being able to act fast."

She does admit that the health funds should have been given responsibility for testing sooner, and that also meant that it took longer to gather information about what symptoms were persuading people to come and get tested.

Moving forward to the current situation, she feels that Israel was too lenient about overseas travel. "For example - closing down events in Israel while there was an option of flying to Dubai and holding exactly the same event there. The entire episode of green countries abroad was wrong. People don't behave abroad as they do at home. And then letting them come back without going into isolation, or to enforce the isolation. That's not correct epidemiology either socially or morally. It causes the public to ask which sectors are 'succeeding' in staying open at the expense of others, instead of everybody observing the instructions together. And of course it very much subverts solidarity if one sector opens up in contradiction of the instructions and nobody does anything about it."

Between the second and third lockdowns she was in favor of the reopening of shopping malls but says it was not done properly. "In the pilot everything was fine but in reality, they did not enforce the number of people in the mall and it was ridiculously high, even though a mall is a place with clear entrances and exits that can be supervised. I don't want to even talk about the timing. Why open on Black Friday? Why not wait a few weeks?"

Prof. Sadetzki is also highly critical of the "uncoordinated" way in which the education system has been open and closed. But the critical tone dissipates when she talks about the speed and success of Israel's vaccination drive.

"I have only praise for the health funds, which have been charged with the vaccination drive. I don't know if the public appreciates the magnitude of this campaign with its very difficult logistical challenges."

Regarding criticism over leftover surpluses reaching the wrong people she said, "I think there are genuine leftovers and those that aren't leftovers and in those cases it probably could have been organized better in terms of choosing who to give them to. Everybody knows a cancer patient that didn't get the vaccination while on the other hand somebody who did get one even though they were not at risk. If 45% was surpluses then something was wrong."

"That is the only criticism that I have of the health funds, which have really run an amazing campaign. Their success also backs up my attitude that whoever does things as a matter of routine also knows how to do things in an emergency."

"Ultimately the vaccinations are perhaps high-tech but preventing infection is low-tech. There is no alternative to it. Preventing contact, masks, that's what wins out and it is very difficult."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on January 22, 2021

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