Should Israelis vaccinate their young children against corona? It’s a tough decision as the numbers look low right now, due to the lower infection rate as Israel appears to be at the tail end of its fourth wave.
The decision on Wednesday night by the Pandemic Response Team and Advisory Committee on Vaccines to approve administering the Pfizer-BioNTech shots for children age 5-11 came at an important moment in the evolution of the pandemic. While young children generally do not get a serious case of the virus, they can pass it on to others.
Seventy-three out of 75 health experts voted in a secret ballot in favor of the approval, and 57 backed the inoculation of children who have recovered from the virus. Still, most experts concede that it will not be easy to convince parents to vaccinate their children.
According to the committee’s decision, children 5 to 11 will soon be eligible for child-size doses of the corona vaccine, as the first shipments are expected to arrive in Israel in the next week.
The move came just days after the US Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccine authorization for the 5-11 age group, and after a Pfizer study of 2,268 children found the vaccine was almost 91% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID infections. On the basis of a study of 3,100 vaccinated children, the FDA concluded that the vaccinations are safe. US officials estimated that a million American children 5 to 11 have already received shots since the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was cleared for use last week.
Since June, Pfizer shots were already recommended in Israel for anyone 12 or older. The decision requires the approval of Health Ministry director-general Dr. Nachman Ash before it takes effect.
Following his approval, the public health system will launch a nationwide vaccination campaign. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said that once the campaign gets under way, the ministry will make all the necessary arrangements with the country’s four health funds in cooperation with the IDF Home Front Command.
“We will make all the information accessible to parents, and every parent will make their own decisions concerning their children,” said Horowitz, stressing that there won’t be coercion. “We aren’t forcing it on anyone and not requiring it of anyone. We are explaining how good and important it is.”
Corona czar Prof. Salman Zarka said: “In the first stage, we will make the health funds the priority because we assume that at these ages, the parents will want to be more involved and come with their children to the clinics to receive the vaccines. In any case, there will be no limitations.”
Dr. Tal Brosh, head of the Health Ministry’s epidemics team, said that the ministry seeks to “administer the shots within the short time-frame of three weeks – just as we did with adults – because it creates immunity faster.”
Brosh said that the team will discuss at its next meeting whether there are grounds to increase the time frame between the shots.
“It’s a complex issue,” Brosh said. “The relevant data is not yet satisfactory, and the last word on the matter hasn’t been said yet.”
The Health Ministry’s vaccination drive and Green Pass system have met with some public resistance. At the request of the committee members themselves, Wednesday evening’s deliberations and the committee’s vote on vaccinating children were not broadcast to the public due to concerns about a public backlash.
However, the Israel Pediatric Association issued a position paper last week endorsing the vaccination of children above age 5. According to the paper, from the beginning of the pandemic in Israel until last month, 398 children were hospitalized in moderate, serious or critical condition due to COVID. The Pfizer study shows that the vaccination of children from 5 to 11 “has an excellent safety profile,” the paper stated.
We can only concur and urge parents to go ahead and vaccinate their children once the campaign is launched. If we are to avoid a fifth wave, it is essential that as many people as possible – from young children to the elderly – are vaccinated.