Fact check: Israel launching ‘Green Pass’ for COVID-19 vaccinated

The claim: Israel implementing an internal COVID-19 vaccine passport

The U.S. may have reached over 77 million coronavirus vaccines administered, but its rollout effort lags behind countries like Israel, where over 50% of Israelis have received at least one dose and nearly 40% have been fully vaccinated.

Protection against the contagious virus is not the only thing the country of 9.2 million is providing its vaccinated: It’s handing out some social perks as well, claims one social media post.

“Photo from Isreal (sic), where they are implementing an internal COVID-19 vaccine passport,” writes one Facebook user to the image of green lounge chairs on a beach marked with the words “RESERVED FOR VACCINATED PEOPLE ONLY.”

The post has received over 400 interactions and shares since it was posted on Feb. 28, along with many comments expressing disbelief.

“This is called social conditioning!” commented one Facebook user.

“That’s messed up!” said another.

USA TODAY has reached out to the original poster for further comment.

An exclusive certificate for the vaccinated

The “internal COVID-19 vaccine passport” is a very real initiative introduced by Israel’s Ministry of Health in mid-January and released in late February in attempts to reopen the country, and the economy, more widely.

According to the ministry, the passport, or “Green Pass” – a vaccination certificate, both digital and in paper form – is available to any individual who has received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine through any one of Israel’s four health maintenance organizations or other accredited vaccination service.

Individuals who have recovered from the virus, indicating acquired immunity, but have not been vaccinated are not eligible.

While shops, malls and museums are open to all, the Green Pass confers exclusive access to restricted sites like hotels, gyms, theaters, music venues and other leisure facilities. Indoor dining in restaurants and bars is expected to be included sometime in March, The Guardian reported.

A health care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at a large vaccination center open by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center on Dec. 31, 2020, in the Israeli coastal city.

Pass-holders are not required to follow COVID-19 safety restrictions such as going into isolation if coming into contact with a confirmed infected patient or after international travel from a COVID-19 “red zone,” or countries with high infectious rates.

But mask wearing in public settings remains compulsory as do social distancing and avoiding social gatherings.

Other caveats are that the pass does not go into effect until a week after the second dose is administered and expires within six months, although it can be renewed many times. It’s also invalid unless accompanied by proper identification documents, a precaution against it being falsely used or distributed.

Pass not without criticism

About 60% of Israelis were expected to be eligible for the pass, according to Israel Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen to the state’s public radio broadcaster Kan prior to the Green Pass’ launch.

There are hopes the program will help incentivize those who have put off vaccination, especially as the country saw a decline in vaccination rates last month.

But resuming some semblance of pre-COVID normalcy has raised concerns the initiative will incite discrimination and further the divide between those with vaccine access and those without. Israel has received criticism for sending sparse vaccine shipments to its neighbor Gaza – with a population of about 2 million people – while sending more to distant political allies elsewhere and even in exchange for an Israeli citizen detained in Syria.

The case fatality rate, or proportion of reported infections that result in a person dying, is 1.1% among Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem compared to 0.7% in Israel, according to recent data from the World Health Organization.

Our ruling: True

We rate the claim that Israel is implementing an internal COVID-19 vaccine passport TRUE as it is supported by our research. The domestic passport, also known as a “Green Pass,” provides individuals who have been fully vaccinated some freedoms from COVID-19 safety restrictions.

Our fact-check sources:

  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 1, “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States”
  • The New York Times, March 1, “Tracking Coronavirus Vaccinations Around the World”
  • Times of Israel, April, 26, 2020, “As it turns 72, Israel’s population stands at 9.2 million”
  • Municipality of Tel Aviv, accessed March 1, “Medical Insurance”
  • Israel Ministry of Health, accessed March 1, “What is a Vaccination Certificate?”
  • National Institutes of Health, Jan. 26, “Lasting immunity found after recovery from COVID-19”
  • The Guardian, Feb. 28, “Green pass: how are Covid vaccine passports working for Israel?”
  • Israel Ministry of Health, Jan. 11, “People Vaccinated for Coronavirus”
  • Reuters, Feb. 10, “Israel plans ‘Green Pass’ to leisure for COVID-immune on Feb 23”
  • The Guardian, Feb. 19, “Covid: vaccinated Israelis to enjoy bars and hotels with ‘green pass'”
  • Foreign Policy, Feb. 17, “What if Countries That Excel at Vaccination Still Don’t Achieve Herd Immunity?”
  • The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 26, “Israel’s ‘green passport’ raises concerns about discrimination”
  • NBC News, Feb. 9, “Israel shines as coronavirus success story, while neighbors in Gaza are left without vaccines”
  • The New York Times, Feb. 24, “Israel Secretly Agrees to Fund Vaccines for Syria as Part of Prisoner Swap”
  • The World Health Organization, accessed March 2, “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the occupied Palestinian territory”

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.

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