Some 163 children aged 5-11 have already received a coronavirus vaccine because of specific health reasons, a Health Ministry official said Thursday as the Pandemic Response Team advising the ministry discussed vaccination for children in a live-streamed meeting.
A decision on whether to approve the inoculation of the 5-11 age group is expected next week.
The vaccine has not been authorized yet but one of the children who received his jab suffered serious adverse effects a few days later, according to a report.
Dr. Emilia Anis, the Health Ministry’s director of epidemiology, said that of those 163 children, four reported mild side effects such as fever, general fatigue and pain at the local site, and one reported having a convulsion eight days after receiving the injection. No neurological damage occurred and the case is being investigated.
The ministry decided to live-stream the meeting to reassure parents about the transparency of the process and present them the data about the inoculation.
The public were also invited to send in questions and to apply to speak during the session. However, only a hundred people sent in questions and 114 people applied to speak. Of them, 28 were individuals who oppose authorizing the vaccine for the cohort, including seven medical experts. Six of those were selected to speak.
“We come to the discussion with a willing mind and an open heart,” said the chairman of the committee Dr. Boaz Lev as he opened the meeting. “Even if our opinions are different – we all want the best for the children.
“We are all sorry for the deterioration of the public debate that has crossed the line of incitement and verbal violence and we hope and expect that the discussions will lead to more understanding and tolerance – even if the recommendation is not based on the early inner conviction of each of us,” he added.
At the beginning of the debate, Dr. Alejandra Gurtman, a Pfizer vice-president for Vaccine Clinical Research and Development, presented the results of the clinical trial and other relevant data.
“The question we always asked in these discussions is what is the better option and how we weigh it,” Head of Public Health Service Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said. “Is there more risk from the disease or the vaccine? We will try to answer this question looking at morbidity among children and the data that exist in Israel.
“What is important is that each parent will make the decision for their child based on the data,” she added. “We are not trying to force anybody but to present the data.”
The Pfizer vaccine was approved by a similar panel supporting the US Food and Drug Administration last week. Following the approval by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US began inoculating the cohort on Wednesday.
The vaccine was shown to be more than 90% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in children.
Many health officials and experts believe that inoculating the 5-11 age group – over 1.2 million children in Israel – will make a significant contribution toward defeating the pandemic.
During the meeting, several professionals from the ministry and from Israeli hospitals, presented information regarding the potential consequences of the coronavirus in infected children – including PIMS (pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome) and “long COVID” – as well as efficacy and safety of the vaccine.
Dr. Michal Stein, director of the Infectious Diseases Unit at the Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, addressed the question of side effects and especially the risk of developing myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart – after the adverse event was registered as a rare side effect among vaccine recipients and especially among young men.
She stressed that the possible rate of cases in the 5-11 population is unknown but no event of myocarditis was recorded in the Pfizer medical trial.
“The risk is likely lower than among the 12-17 population,” she said, also stressing that the cases of inflammation caused by the vaccine have been mild, especially if compared with those triggered by the virus itself.
On the other hand, the paucity of comprehensive information and the relatively small number of participants in the clinical trial – 1,500 children – were raised by some medical experts who spoke against the authorization of the vaccine during the time allotted to representatives of the public.
Among them was Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Prof. Rivka Carmi.
“Myocarditis is not a mild side effect,” she said. “The low number of participants in the Pfizer clinical trial does not allow us to identify the phenomenon.”
Carmi and others also offered a different interpretation of the data regarding severe symptoms, PIMS and long-COVID, compared to the one offered by other health officials and experts who spoke previously.
“COVID is a mild disease for children in most cases,” she said.