More than half of Israeli parents are likely to vaccinate their children against coronavirus, the country's pandemic czar Salman Zarka said on Monday, only days after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for emergency use among children aged 5 to 11.
In an interview published in Israel Hayom, Zarka said that he thinks that “a significant part of the public, more than 50 percent, believe that the vaccine is right and will want to protect their children and also to spare them isolation and antigen testing, which is invasive for children.”
Tens of thousands of schoolchildren are currently in isolation despite the rollout of the government’s 'Green Class' program intended to minimize student quarantines. The program been criticized by some for being implemented without sufficient testing, though the number of schoolchildren infected by COVID has fallen by over 50 percent in the last two weeks.
Last Friday, the FDA authorized emergency use of the vaccine in children ages 5 to 11, after Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine showed 90.7 percent efficacy against the coronavirus in a clinical trial. An advisory panel to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is slated to meet in the coming days to make a recommendation on the administration of the vaccine.
According to Zarka, who said that the rollout of childhood vaccines against COVID would not initially spark any changes in the administration of the government’s Green Pass system or rapid tests, the matter of vaccinations for younger children will be taken up by a professional committee within the coming week.
"All the public's questions will be answered. We all saw the FDA discussion, and there they confirmed it as part of the understanding that they were convinced by the data that the benefit from the vaccine is greater than the side effects,” he told Israel Hayom.
Zarka also told Israel Hayom that he sympathizes with the head of public health services, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, who was recently assigned a security detail, saying that while he is “not threatened on her level,” he has also been the target of public ire.
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"I do not walk around with a panic button and hope I do not reach that point,” he said, condemning recent extreme criticism of healthcare workers at Israeli hospitals by anti-vaccine activists.
If approved in Israel, about 1 million more Israelis could potentially be vaccinated – about 11 percent of the population.
In an interview with Radio 103fm last Sunday, Zarka stated that Israeli approval of the coronavirus vaccine for children would likely follow closely on the heels of an American decision.
"I assume the second half of November is a reasonable deadline, after our experts have deliberated,” he said. “Even in the past when vaccines were approved by the FDA, our international experts deliberated about it until the director general’s approval. We will do the same this time, explain to the parents and encourage them to get the vaccine and protect their children.”
The Health Ministry's director-general, Prof. Nachman Ash, and Alroy-Preis, have both been unwavering in their public support for the juvenile vaccine.
Ahead of the anticipated campaign, Israel is importing millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID vaccine, with public broadcaster Kan reporting that there are currently sufficient stocks to begin mass inoculation of children, with millions of additional doses expected to arrive by January 2022.
An opinion poll conducted at the beginning of the month by Liora Shmueli of Bar-Ilan University, found that among 894 parents of Israeli children aged 5 to 11, 57 percent expressed willingness to vaccinate their kids against the coronavirus this coming winter if the vaccine is approved and available.
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) vaccines have been linked to rare cases of heart inflammation called myocarditis, especially in young men. According to Health Ministry data published last month, only twelve children out of over 330,000 between the ages of 12 and 15 vaccinated in Israel contracted myocarditis and all have fully recovered.
Reuters contributed to this report.