In another one to two months, Israel will begin vaccinating children ages 12 to 15, according to the country’s coronavirus commissar Nachman Ash.
Ash said the country would wait for the FDA to approve the Pfizer shot after the company conducted safety trials on this age group and found the mRNA inoculation 100% effective in preventing COVID-19, according to a statement from Pfizer-BioNtech.
The FDA gave the vaccine Emergency Use Authorization for ages 16 and up and is expected to do the same for ages 12 and up as well.
The company said that children in the trials experienced similar side effects to older teens and adults such as “pain, fever, chills and fatigue, particularly after the second dose.” Participants will be tracked for two years to look at long-term protection and side effects.
While Israel has had near full compliance with vaccinating adults – nearly 90% of eligible Israelis have received at least one shot or have recovered from COVID – officials are expecting greater resistance from parents to vaccinate their children.
“The resistance is expected to come mainly because children are not severely affected by the disease, and in Israel there is no mortality of children from the coronavirus at all. According to officials, morbidity in the country has dropped sharply and many will not understand the need to continue vaccinating in the face of encouraging data,” the Israeli news site Walla! reported.
The Hebrew-language website went on to report that the Ministry of Health is preparing incentives – including summer camps requiring a 90% vaccination rate among participants – in order to encourage immunization among adolescents.
Another incentive will be a 90% threshold in order to allow a full return to classroom learning for grades 7-12 for the upcoming school year.
“The Ministry of Health hopes that after more than a year of distance learning, parents will give wider approval,” Walla! reported.
Some 700 children ages 12 to 15 who have underlying health issues have already been vaccinated after getting exemptions to do so based on their high-risk situation.
Meanwhile, Pfizer has begun safety testing on children under 12 and is expecting to soon test the shot on babies from 6 months old. These trials are expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“The Pfizer announcement is terrific news,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on social media on Wednesday. “There is nothing more in order now than a speedy approval of more vaccine procurements (by Israel), so we can be poised to vaccinate immediately upon FDA approval.”
Edelstein was referring to the Cabinet’s delayed approval for a $2 billion purchase of millions more vaccine doses to have in stock.
“God willing, we will continue to be a global model of success,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Israel has already procured millions of doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer shot, which uses a new mRNA technology. It is believed to be 94% effective in preventing the disease.
One health official struck a different tone saying there should be no rush to vaccinate minors. Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of the Health Ministry’s public health services, told Ynet News, that Israel should take the same approach as it did with pregnant women saying, “there will be no compulsory vaccination for children.”
She did say, however, that the full vaccination of children would be necessary in order to reach herd immunity.
Israel is experiencing the effects of the vaccine with a remarkable drop in infection rates and only 396 COVID-19 patients in serious condition as of Wednesday. Just a few months ago, nearly 1,200 patients were hospitalized in serious condition. Also on Wednesday, only 1.3% of tests returned positive – 489 people. Active cases dropped to under 7,200, the lowest number in several months. The death toll stood at 6,214 on Wednesday.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS