With some three million people under the age of 16, about one third of the population, Israel is eagerly awaiting the signal to start inoculating children aged 12-15.
While the Pfizer clinical trial for the coronavirus vaccine is still ongoing, some 200 Israeli youngsters considered to be at a very high risk have already received their shots, according to Channel 12. As both health officials and experts emphasized, no adverse effect have been reported.
Who are these children, and in which cases do experts recommend giving the vaccine?
According to the Health Ministry’s protocol, only children afflicted by preexisting conditions that put them at risk for contracting a severe COVID-19 infection may be considered. This includes severe obesity, immune suppression and respiratory diseases. But experts explained to The Jerusalem Post that each case should be evaluated carefully on its own merits.
“I think that the recommendation to vaccinate children under the age of 16, should be very personal,” said Dr. Galia Barkai, director of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Unit at Sheba Medical Center.
“It is necessary to weigh the possible consequences for them if they were to become infected against the risk of the vaccine, which I think is really low; but at the same time, the topic is sensitive because we do not have all the information.”
“Even in cases that fall under the protocol, we urge families to discuss the pros and cons with their doctor, who knows the child very well,” said Prof. Efi Bilavsky, senior physician in the department of pediatrics and a specialist in infectious diseases at Schneider Children’s Medical Center.
Both hospitals vaccinated a few children under 16.
“Among others, we inoculated a 14-year-old with transplanted lungs, based on the fact that studies have shown that the majority of adults with transplanted lungs who contracted the disease died,” Barkai pointed out. “On the other hand, we have seen that even young patients with an immune-suppressed system who got infected did very well. For this reason, I only recommend that children with severe respiratory diseases get inoculated.”
She added that even in case of children suffering from cancer, she would not give a blanket suggestion to get vaccinated, because she encountered many oncological patients who became infected without developing any significant complications.
Both experts emphasized that more than the authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, what should matter in deciding to approve the vaccine in Israel are the results of the Pfizer study.
“I think that what is important is that we have the findings about adverse effects; we do not even need those about the efficacy of the vaccine, which we know is very effective,” Barkai said.
She stressed that vaccines have been very safe for a long time, but it is still important to make decisions based on evidence.
“I’m not afraid of safety issues, but I think that we cannot allow ourselves to inoculate children without relying on real evidence that it is not dangerous. We have to make the parents feel safe and confident about the vaccine,” she concluded.
Health officials say they hope that children in Israel aged 12-15 will begin to receive the vaccines by April or May.