The director of public health services told a Health Ministry hearing on Thursday that that Israel wasn't trying "to compel or push anyone" into vaccinating their children against COVID, ahead of a potential decision on expanding inoculation to children aged 5-11.
The public Health Ministry hearing, which is being held on Zoom and streamed live on social media and Health Ministry website, comes after the vaccinations were approved by the FDA last week.
The hearing consists of three parts: explanations from medical professionals about vaccinating children; a public discussion, including different viewpoints on vaccinations; and a question-and-answer session with the expert panel with queries from the public.
Also on Thursday, the Israel Pediatric Association recommended the inoculation of children aged five to 11. The discussion to approve the vaccine campaign will be a separate meeting of experts, and is expected to be held next week; it will not be open to the public.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the Health Ministry's head of public health services, said during the discussion that the ministry's goal is to provide all the data to parents so that they can decide for themselves whether to inoculate their children.
She presented data indicating that there were relatively more young people who caught the virus during the fourth COVID-19 wave than during the previous ones because they were not vaccinated.
Alroy-Preis said that 520,000 children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the epidemic began. About 500 of them have become seriously ill, and 10 of them have died. Analysts estimate the serious illness and death rate for children aged 5 to 11 is 31.5 per million infected children.
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She also discussed Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome, known as PIMS, saying that there are 136 such recorded cases, 68 of them among 5-to-11 year olds. According to the Coronavirus information center, which collected the data from the U.S. Center for Disease Control, the incidence of PIMS is 1 per 3,200 cases.
Alroy-Preis presented data predicting that there will be 270 PIMS cases per million infected children between the ages of 5 and 11.
She also shared data showing that children aged 12 to 15 who were vaccinated are 12 times better protected against COVID-19 and 20 times less likely to show symptoms compared to unvaccinated children the same age range. If a vaccinated youth from this age group is infected, the chance of infecting others is 60 percent lower compared to unvaccinated children from this cohort.
The forum on the inoculations includes the COVID vaccine monitoring committee and members of the epidemic management team that has been advising the Health Ministry for two decades. The ministry will make the final decision on the children's vaccination campaign based on the expert panel's recommendations.
During the first part of the hearing on Thursday, representatives of Pfizer presented the vaccines and provide explanations about administering them to children, and Health Ministry figures spoke as well, including Alroy-Preis.
In the second part of the hearing, 20 people will speak and present their views to the members of the epidemic management team. The speakers were chosen in a lottery, and every speaker will be allotted three minutes to present their positions.
The Health Ministry decided that the speakers will comment only on “the professional issue. A discourse that will slander the members of the epidemics' management team in a personal or group manner or employees of the Health Ministry will not be allowed. Verbal violence of any type will not be allowed during the discussion. In cases of violating this rule, the speaker’s presentation will be immediately stopped.”
This is the first discussion held by this forum which is open to the public. The decision to hold a public discussion was inspired by similar discussions conducted by the FDA.
The Health Ministry wanted to broadcast the discussion live as a confidence-building and transparency measure regarding the vaccine, but many officials in the health system are skeptical as to whether the move will achieve its goal.
Some of the members of advisory forum expressed reservations to streaming the hearing at a meeting two weeks ago, in part because they believe their meetings to be transparent enough. The minutes of their discussions are published on the ministry's website a few days after the meetings are held, and they include the names of the speakers and their remarks. Forum members also feared that the public debate would increase the attacks and threats they have suffered from people who oppose the vaccine.
“The majority agreed to allow opening some of the discussions to the public but opposed an open vote, in part because of the general atmosphere concerning making decisions on coronavirus matters and the personal [attacks],” one of the members of the advisory forum told Haaretz.
“If Israel was Switzerland, then maybe there wouldn’t be opposition,” he added. This came after the Health Ministry was forced to provide Alroy Preis with a security detail, after the threat level to her and her family was raised to the highest level.