Vaccine committee recommends COVID shot for recovered kids

The Israeli government is set to continue debate on travel restrictions this week.

 A WOMAN receives a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, at Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, last week.  (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
A WOMAN receives a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, at Meuhedet vaccination center in Jerusalem, last week.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

All children 5-11 who recovered from the virus more than three months ago or who tested positive for COVID antibodies via a serology test should be vaccinated, the Advisory Committee for the Corona Vaccines and Epidemic Control recommended on Tuesday.

The decision, which was made as part of a three-hour meeting centered on updating the country’s vaccination guidelines, came only one day after it was revealed that the Health Ministry authorized Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to vaccinate his son David with a corona vaccine, even though he had been infected with the virus. 

The Health Ministry told The Jerusalem Post that “parents of a recovering child can decide if they want to vaccinate their children, and there is no impediment to doing so if at least three months have passed since the date of recovery.”

The committee also discussed administering a fourth dose to immunosuppressed individuals, but after reviewing data that showed that many immunosuppressed people did not even develop antibodies after taking a third dose, that giving a fourth dose would be unhelpful. Instead, the committee decided they would review for which individuals a fourth shot would work and roll out recommendations specifically for them.

All of the committee's decisions are subject to the approval of Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash.

Likely, all Israelis will eventually require a fourth shot, according to coronavirus commissioner Prof. Salman Zarka, who spoke Tuesday at the Maariv-Walla Business Summit.

A Clalit health worker fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine at Cinema City in Jerusalem. (credit: CLALIT HEALTH SERVICES)A Clalit health worker fills a syringe with the COVID-19 vaccine at Cinema City in Jerusalem. (credit: CLALIT HEALTH SERVICES)

“I don’t know when the fourth shot is going to be needed, but I think it will be needed,” he said. “We are all hoping that the third shot will last a year, similar to what happens with the flu vaccine. We are monitoring the data. As of now, there is no need for a fourth vaccine.”

Meuhedet Health Services CEO Sigal Regev Rosenberg expressed similar sentiments at the conference, saying the country saw immunity wane from the first two shots and it could be that this will happen again.

“The pharmaceutical companies will decide what to do and how to do it,” Rosenberg said. “It could be that in another few months, we will need a fourth vaccine.”

The country should be careful to watch for vaccine waning but remain open, she added, and refrain from putting sanctions or restrictions on the unvaccinated.

“They should not be restricted,” she said of the unvaccinated, “but the vaccinated should be given certain reliefs. Minister [Avigdor] Liberman said the economy should be left open, that people should continue to work... That is what we should be thinking about.”

In August, Israel was the world’s first country to offer a third dose of the vaccine to its general population, after experiencing a surge in cases from June.

Health experts soon established that the wave was fueled by a decline in the protection offered a few months after the original two-shot inoculation.

The hope has been that the booster would offer longer-lasting immunity.

While no comprehensive data on the matter has been released yet, some experts have suggested that this might not be the case. Preliminary results of laboratory tests monitoring antibody levels have started to show that vaccine protection wanes. In addition, morbidity in Israel has experienced a minor increase in the last few weeks.

In the week between November 28 and December 4, an average of 518 new cases were recorded every day; the previous week they were 509, and the week before that, 456.

For several days, the reproduction or “R” rate has fluctuated between 1 and 1.1, meaning that morbidity is rising, albeit only slightly. On Tuesday night, the R was holding at 1.02.

There were 734 new cases registered on Monday, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. The previous Monday there were 697, and two weeks earlier, 716.

At the same time, the number of serious patients continued to decline, standing at 106. Seven days earlier there were 118.

Of the current 5,700 active cases in Israel, 3,500 are among children under age 12. The government therefore decided to require all preschoolers and students in grades 1-6 to undergo a rapid corona test before going back to school after Hanukkah, with 900,000 test kits distributed for this purpose.

The Education Ministry said that as of Tuesday afternoon, exactly 484 children had tested positive, and almost 620,000 reported they tested negative.

While the country has been in a state of alert since the discovery of the new Omicron variant at the end of last month, the dominant variant in Israel has remained Delta for the moment.

Only 21 Omicron cases had been identified in the country as of Monday night.

HEALTH AND GOVERNMENT officials are set to continue the debate over travel restrictions on Wednesday, with at least one health expert believing the current restrictions should remain in place.

Zarka said the situation amid the Omicron variant continues to be worrisome, as the available information is too limited.

“We need to understand how much the variant infects, how much it causes serious disease, if it hurts children, and if the vaccine works,” he said on Tuesday at the Maariv-Walla Business Summit in Herzliya.

While Zarka would like to cancel the requirement of three days of quarantine for vaccinated travelers returning from abroad, “We are not ready to go back to normal,” he said.

His statements came only hours after Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz met on Monday night to discuss what the policies will be for testing and isolating Israeli travelers returning to Israel once the current set of restrictions is over.

Recall, the first Omicron variant case was discovered in Israel on November 26. That same day, Bennett labeled 50 African countries red. On Saturday night, he banned foreign entry into Israel and said everybody would need to enter isolation, including fully vaccinated people for three days – only leaving their homes after a second negative PCR result was obtained.

The situation was supposed to last two weeks, until this coming weekend, but a decision as to whether the restrictions will be terminated has yet to be determined.

On Thursday, Dr. Amelia Enis, director of the Health Ministry’s Department of Infectious Diseases, told the Knesset that preliminary data out of England show that infection with the Omicron variant is estimated to be four to five times greater than with the Delta variant.

A situation assessment is expected to be held and decisions made based on data about the Omicron variant in Israel and around the world.

However, Bennett and Horowitz are considering allowing fully vaccinated or recently recovered Israelis to return from yellow countries and only have to take a PCR test on arrival.

Returnees would be asked to stay in isolation until a negative result is obtained or 24 hours pass, whichever is first. Until the discovery of the Omicron variant, this was already the policy.

At the same time, these vaccinated and recovered individuals would be allowed to return from orange countries and only isolate for 24 hours. A PCR test would be required both at landing and on day three.

Immunized returnees from red states would be required to isolate for seven days, taking a PCR test on landing and on day seven.

Unvaccinated Israelis would remain subject to stricter restrictions, including a seven-day isolation period when returning from yellow, orange or red countries. PCR tests would have to be taken on days one and seven.

However, anyone unvaccinated returning from a red state would need to be isolated in a state-run corona hotel for at least 24 hours, until a negative PCR result is received. After that they can leave the hotel, with individuals pledging in writing that they will stay in isolation at home.

On Tuesday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee extended the obligation for people returning from the 50 African countries listed as red to stay in a corona hotel until December 12.