Several prominent Israeli public health officials have indicated that a national vaccine drive for children between the ages 5-11 could begin within weeks.
In an interview with the national broadcaster Kan, the ministry's head of public health services Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis said she assumes the option to vaccinate children in this age group will be "available soon."
She added that according to data, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration "is likely to approve it soon, and then we will begin discussions to approve it as well."
Ahead of the anticipated campaign, Israel is importing millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
Citing government officials, Kan reported on Sunday that there are currently sufficient stocks to begin mass inoculation of children, with millions of additional doses expected to arrive by January 2022.
The Health Ministry’s Immunization Committee is currently split on the immediate rollout of such a campaign, with some members believing that it should only commence after an increase in morbidity, Kan reported.
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FDA officials are reviewing the Pfizer/BioNTech request for authorization of its 2-dose vaccine for younger children, with its panel of outside advisers scheduled to weigh in on October 26.
Anthony Fauci, the U.S. administration’s top infectious disease expert, has said that vaccines for children will likely be available in the first half of November.
In an interview with Radio 103fm on Sunday, Israeli coronavirus czar Salman Zarka stated that Israeli approval of a childhood coronavirus vaccine 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.”
Health Ministry Director-General Prof. Nachman Ash and Alroy-Preis both seemed bullish on the juvenile vaccine. “The FDA’s deliberations have one goal — to balance efficiency and safety. In the publications I have seen, its benefit far outweighs any risk. Our job is to bring the data to the parents. We do not want a parent to vaccinate his child by force,” said Alroy-Preis.
“We will discuss the results of Pfizer's research and examine whether to approve the vaccine for children, it will take a few weeks,” Ash stated.
FDA scientists said last Friday that the likely benefits of giving the vaccine to 5-11-year olds clearly outweigh the risks of rare cases of heart inflammation.
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.