As schools face renewed COVID-19 outbreaks, only about four percent of children aged 12 through 15 have been vaccinated against the coronavirus despite the vaccine being approved for that age group, data from the Central Bureau of Statistics shows.
Only about 26,000 children in that age group have been vaccinated so far. In light of the recent outbreaks, which have seen mask mandates reinstated in some schools, health maintenance organizations are reporting that 18,000 new vaccine appointments for children and teens have been booked, and that they expect even more to receive their first doses in the coming days.
Earlier this month, Israel approved the use of the coronavirus vaccine for children aged 12 to 15; on Sunday, the Health Ministry officially recommended that youths in this age group receive the jab. The ministry had been hesitant to push parents to inoculate their children due to the low COVID-19 infection rates and high vaccination rates among adults and those at higher risk. The spread of the Delta variant of the virus, which was first discovered in India, along with the newly diagnosed cases, prompted the change.
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The Delta variant is believed to be up to 1.5 times more infections than the Alpha variant, which was discovered in the United Kingdom. According to the World Health Organization, since its discovery in March, the Delta variant has become the virus' dominant strain, and has spread to more than 80 countries.
The increase of people who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine testing positive for the Delta variant has stirred new fears about the vaccine's effectiveness against emerging coronavirus strains.
Over the past few weeks, data released by Britain's health services and a recently published study in Lancet by scientists from Scotland indicated that the vaccine is somewhat less effective against the Delta variant – about 80 percent – compared to over 90 percent for the Alpha variant.
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Prof. Dana Wolf, the director of the clinical virology unit at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem in Jerusalem, said that two-dose mRNA vaccines, such as that of Pfizer, seem to be highly effective against the Delta variant. At the same time, she noted, "There are contradictory reports as to how effective the antibodies of vaccinated people are at neutralizing the Delta variant." Some show an equal level of effectiveness, and others show a lower level of effectiveness in neutralizing the virus compared to the original and Alpha strains.
She added that the reason for the increased infectiousness of the Delta variant is still unknown. "It seems that it is related to the new mutations that developed in its spike protein, and which cause its increased spread," said Wolf.