Parents have picked up only around 70% of the rapid antigen tests required to administer COVID-19 tests to their children before school starts Thursday, the Education Ministry said, as Pfizer announced it had requested Emergency Use Authorization for its vaccine for young children and the country has finally started to see the morbidity rate decline.
The government ruled during the holidays that no student in preschool through sixth grade can return to school after Sukkot break without a negative result - 1.5 million students.
On Wednesday, the last day of the break, Magen David Adom said it will set up around 400 complexes with the testing kits so parents can come and collect them. Students who are not screened will be sent home. If parents cannot come to pick them up, they will be isolated in a room separate from the other children.
The last time parents were asked to screen their kids before school started, some 8,000 cases of the virus were identified.
Meanwhile, Pfizer has submitted the data from its Phase II/III clinical trial to the American Food and Drug Administration with a request for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of a lower dose of its vaccine for children ages 5-11, the company said in a release on Tuesday.
The data was shared for initial review. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in interviews in the US that he did not want to preempt any final decision by the FDA but that he believed the data looks good and “hopefully they will give the OK so we can start vaccinating children hopefully before the end of October.”
In this Pfizer clinical trial, there were 2,268 children between the ages of five and 11 who have received two doses of 10 micrograms of the company’s coronavirus vaccine, each 21 days apart. Within one month after the second dose, the antibody responses of the participants were comparable to those recorded in previous studies of people ages 16 to 25, the company said. The older cohort, however, received 30 micrograms.
Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash celebrated the news on Tuesday night, though he told N12 in an interview that Israel would wait for the EUA approval of the FDA and then discuss the data itself before giving the shots to children. Ash said vaccinating children will be “important” to help stop the spread of the virus, although data in recent days is indicating that the infection rate could be on the decline.
There were 5,159 people diagnosed with coronavirus on Monday, the Health Ministry said Tuesday after the holiday, with a positivity rate of only 3.87% – the lowest in months. The number of serious cases was at 660 – up from 641 before the holiday, but down from the average of 700 that was the level the week before. There were 227 people who were intubated.
Ash told N12 that 55 people were hooked up to heart-lung ECMO machines, a peak even above previous waves, which was making it “complicated” for the hospitals.
The R rate (reproduction rate) dropped to 0.75, a number that health officials have said would indicate a decline in morbidity. However, the death toll stood at 7,692 – up eight people since the last report before the holiday.
The coronavirus cabinet is expected to meet on for the first time in a month this Sunday, and Ash said his ministry was weighing which, if any, new restrictions it might request from the government.
It is possible that officials will wait to see the impact of the new Green Pass rules, which also go into effect on Sunday and require people to have been either vaccinated or recovered within the last six months.
Ash warned hospitals that even as these new rules go into effect, they cannot prevent any individual who does not adhere to the rules from receiving medical treatment.
In a letter sent to hospital managers on Monday, Ash said that “a Green Pass check cannot be required at the entrance to the hospital,” even for people coming for non-urgent care, because medical services are a basic right of citizens regardless of whether they were vaccinated or have tested negative for the virus.
He further added that it is a patient’s right to have a caregiver if needed for assistance.
“I am aware of the need for and importance of taking steps to prevent coronavirus infections within the hospital,” Ash said. “In general, such activity is required and welcome, but it must be done in accordance with the rules regarding the application of the Green Pass, which was not applied to medical institutions consciously and intentionally.”
He did say that hospitals could request patients take rapid antigen tests before non-urgent medical procedures that could put service teams at risk and that they could offer unvaccinated patients to postpone performing non-urgent procedures until they are vaccinated, or the virus has dissipated.
Whether or not Health Ministry requests will be respected has been called into question, after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett slammed doctors during his speech at the UN and also reportedly in a subsequent briefing with reporters after the event.
“While doctors are an important input, they cannot be the ones running the national initiative,” Bennett said in his speech. Later, he was quoted as saying, “With all due respect to the National COVID-19 Experts Committee and the medical experts – some do not see the full picture. Some even opposed giving the booster in real time.”
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz responded to the comments on Twitter, defending the doctors, and the “dedicated and excellent job” that they do to save lives. Ash told N12 that it “didn’t feel good” to hear the comments, they were “unexpected,” and “it was not right” to speak about such things at the UN.
Finally, the Health Ministry celebrated on Monday that some 2,100 nursing graduates passed their licensing examination and can join the workforce, helping to fill gaping voids inside Israel’s overcrowded hospitals. In addition, some 4,800 nursing students will begin their studies after the Sukkot holiday.
“The human capital that will be absorbed into the system is a blessing and reinforcement for the medical forces on all fronts,” Ash said.