Israel's Ministry of Health has confirmed that a leaked video showing an expert warning the agency about potentially facing lawsuits over COVID-19 vaccine side effects is real, but issued false statements about the discussion.
In an official report authorities released about two months later, in August, they said, “The report presents all the cases that were reported in close proximity to the receipt of the coronavirus vaccine, and does not necessarily indicate a causal relationship between receiving the vaccine and the reported phenomenon."
The ministry, or MoH, repeatedly declined to comment to The Epoch Times about the video and also did not return queries from Yaffa Shir-Raz, a health journalist and professor who obtained the video from a source.
Officials present during the meeting also declined to comment or did not respond to comments and have not commented publicly on the situation.
The official did not address why key portions of the discussion were left out of the final report. The official asserted that all the data presented during the meeting appeared in the final report. The official also claimed that the clips were "taken out of context."
"The meeting participants can confirm that the sections were taken out of context," the official said. "The leaked clips were carefully selected and edited in a biased manner, so that their presentation deliberately omits the fact that this is a discussion about raw data that has not undergone any analysis or standardization, during an initial attempt by an assisting team to understand from epidemiological professionals how to proceed and analyze raw data correctly."
Shir-Raz told The Epoch Times that she found it interesting that an anonymous MoH source responded to Reuters when the ministry would not respond to repeated requests from her.
FalsehoodsThe MoH official offered several falsehoods in their comments to Reuters.
The official falsely said, for instance, that the reports that were analyzed "cannot be verified," when the reports were submitted to a new system that requires submitters to include information such as their name and a number from their citizenship certificate. The new system replaced an older system in December 2021 and the data was garnered through May 2022.
MoH also claimed that "there are no unknown side effects or new signals."
But according to Sasha Zhurat, one of the presenters, that's not true.
She said during the meeting that the data "allowed us to really identify new phenomena like tinnitus, like hypoesthesia and paresthesia" and that "we actually identified new phenomena that do not appear in the consumer brochure such as dizziness, tinnitus, hypoesthesia, paresthesia."
Zhurat also pointed out that the brochure, handed to prospective vaccine recipients, listed certain durations for possible side effects.
The leaflet says the problems are "supposed to pass within a few days and we saw that this was not the case," Zhurat said. Some problems lasted for more than a year, including menstrual irregularities, with no end in sight.
Zhurat declined to comment on the discussion, telling The Epoch Times in a Facebook message that she's no longer part of the team analyzing the data.
The HMOs have not responded to requests for comment.
During the meeting, presenters said that many of the reports came from Meuhedet, one of the HMOs. Maccabi, another, "did not send that much because ... they collected phenomena by themselves and not through your form," Maya Berlin, another member of the team said.
Dr. Mati Berkovitch, the leader of the team, said the point was "super important." "This means that there are HMOs that keep the information close to their chest," he said.
Additionally, according to a draft copy of the report the MoH ultimately released, which Shir-Raz also obtained, a person on the team questions whether they should point out that "there are HMOs that did not send messages and therefore there is a bias in the reporting?"
The final report makes no mention of this point.
"They could have reliably reported how many reports there were from each HMO. Why didn't they do it?" Shir-Raz wondered.
Retsef Levi, a professor of operations management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an Israeli native who has been closely following the situation, says that the MoH "lost the trust of the public in Israel exactly because of behaviors like that."
It would take a new leadership and different behavior to undo the tremendous damage that was caused," he told The Epoch Times in an email.
Didn't Watch VideoIn addition to the MoH official not being identified by name, it's not clear who authored the Reuters "fact check." The byline says "Reuters staff."
Reuters took aim at the video clips that have been released and judged them in the "fact check" as "misleading."
But Reuters didn't watch the full video, a spokesperson confirmed.
"As stated in the Reuters fact check, the Ministry of Health said the video clips that appeared online were of an internal meeting recorded without their knowledge, and that the full recording was not available," a Reuters spokesperson told The Epoch Times in an email. "Reuters stands by its reporting that the edited clips published online were taken out of context and are misleading."
Reuters never approached Shir-Raz for the full recording.
"As for Reuters, no one has contacted me to request a comment or to watch the recording. It is surprising to find out that this is how the second largest news agency in the world operates," Shir-Raz said.
"My investigation, in which the allegations of concealment and lies are based on an authentic recording of a discussion in which the speakers were not aware that they were being recorded and therefore spoke freely—which is the highest level of evidence, is a case that is very easy to verify or alternatively debunk. All Reuters had to do was contact me and ask to watch the recording (a basic journalistic standard)—as The Epoch Times reporters did."
Fact CheckerAccording to WhatsApp messages reviewed by The Epoch Times, a person named Anat Koren, who identified herself as working for Reuters as a fact checker, reviewed the video clips that were posted online but never asked for the full video. Reuters did not deny that Koren works for the company.
Koren was also given the number for Berkovitch but Reuters did not say in its article whether Berkovitch was contacted. Berkovitch has not responded to queries from The Epoch Times.
Koren also said Reuters could not publish an article unless the MoH responded. The video was first leaked in August, and Koren was made aware of the clips that month.
"My hands are tied. It's under Reuters. It's up to them what they will publish. I'm just a fact-checking investigator. The Ministry of Health has not yet responded," she said, adding soon that they heard back but the MoH was "not willing to comment at the moment."
"It is not part of my job to decide what is published. In fact, if they don't contradict what you posted, we don't have a case," Koren said in the messages, which were exchanged with Levi.