Coronavirus Israel: Vaccine Drive for Younger Teens May Begin Within a Month, HMO Chief Says

Deal to purchase 36 million vaccines is an 'insurance policy,' Health Ministry director says ■ Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine safe, effective on adolescents in trial

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Middle school students in Jerusalem, this month.
Middle school students in Jerusalem, this month.Credit: Emil Salman

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Months into its mass coronavirus vaccination campaign, Israel sees a drop in COVID infections and in the number of serious cases. Israel has reopened commerce and culture for vaccinated people, and lifted most restrictions on flights. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, 6,220 Israelis have died of the virus.

Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have received 30,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine and 2,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine donated by Israel, as well as shipments of over 160,000 vaccines via the COVAX scheme. A total of 2,283 people have died of COVID in the West Bank, while 618 have died in Gaza.

LIVE UPDATES

11:19 A.M. Palestinian town struggling in battle against COVID

Not one empty bed is left in the coronavirus wards in Tul Karm in the West Bank. The city has two hospitals: a government-run one where a coronavirus ward was opened at the beginning of the pandemic, and one run by the Red Crescent Society that was converted into a coronavirus hospital when the government one was full.

The city has seven ventilators, 10 intensive care beds and only 33 beds in its coronavirus wards. Over the past week, 17 people in the district died of COVID-19, and the city is now under curfew at night and on weekdnds. The entire West Bank is at 94 percent occupancy for coronavirus beds at hospitals – in intensive care wards the number is 100 percent.

Social activists in the city note a shortage of basic equipment in the hospitals, some of it mundane like tables to eat on and adult diapers for older people in the coronavirus wards.

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SATURDAY

1:50 P.M. Thirty blood clot cases recorded after AstraZeneca COVID vaccine use

British regulators on Thursday said they have identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events after the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, 25 more than the agency previously reported.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it had received no such reports of clotting events following use of the vaccine made by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc.

On Friday, the medicine regulator told the Financial Times and The Guardian that seven recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine have died after registering the rare blood clotting events. Reuters was not immediately able to confirm the figure from MHRA after office hours. (Reuters)

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FRIDAY

5:59 A.M. ‘Green passport’ raises a red flag about civil liberties | Analysis

The onset of the economy’s return to routine raises questions about the policy behind the “green passport,” the vaccination-proving document that Israelis need to enter certain public places and sometimes even return to the office or factory. A paper by Physicians for Human Rights and the Zulat Institute for Equality and Human Rights states that expanding the demand to show the Green Pass could lead to a slippery slope eroding individual rights. (Amos Harel)

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THURSDAY

1:44 P.M. Pfizer shot 91 percent effective in updated data

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech said on Thursday their COVID-19 vaccine is around 91 percent effective at preventing the disease, citing updated trial data that included participants inoculated for up to six months.

The shot was also 100 percent effective in preventing illness among trial participants in South Africa, where a new variant called B1351 is dominant, although the number of those participants was relatively small at 800.

While the new overall efficacy rate of 91.3 percent is lower than the 95 percent originally reported in November for its 44,000-person trial, a number of variants have become more prevalent around the world since then.

Pfizer's Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said the updated results, which includes data on more than 12,000 people fully inoculated for at least six months, positions the drugmakers to submit for full U.S. regulatory approval. (Reuters)

8:00 A.M. HMO head says children may be able to be vaccinated within a month

Ehud Davidson, the CEO of Clalit Health Services health maintenance organization, told Army Radio this morning that vaccination for children aged 12 to 15 may start within a month. 

"It's not a matter of supply, the issue is that we're waiting for FDA and Health Ministry approval," Davidson said. "And from what I hear it's coming up, within a month." 

He added that while the HMO is preparing for the next stage of the vaccine campaign, "the numbers are a lot lower than what we already carried out." There are about 600,000 children within that age bracket in Israel, he said, about half of whom are insured by Clalit. "I don't see a problem. It's the opposite, in fact: We can have a quick campaign."  

WEDNESDAY

2:55 P.M. Health Ministry says Israel ready to vaccinate teens upon regulatory approval

Israel is primed to begin vaccinating teens as soon as the Pfizer vaccine receives FDA and EMA approval, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday. 

The official statement from the ministry said it was awaiting regulatory approval to confirm that the inoculation is "effective and safe for children." 

"Pfizer's announcement is amazing news for the citizens of Israel," Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said. "Nothing is more timely than the acquisition of additional vaccines, so we can immediately begin vaccinating teens upon FDA approval," he added.

Sources in Israel's health maintenance organizations said that they are prepared to immediately enact a mass vaccine drive in adolescents and would only need several days notice. (Ido Efrati)

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2:40 P.M. Israel Pediatric Association says it has already made preparations for vaccinating children

Following the announcement by Pfizer that their COVID-19 vaccine is both safe and extremely effective in children aged 12 to 15, the Israel Pediatric Association recommended vaccinating this age group as soon as FDA approval is finalized.

"The association prepared a list of underlying medical conditions in children two months ago," the association said. "We urge all parents of children with underlying medical issues to call their pediatricians now and find out if their children can be vaccinated." (Ido Efrati)

1:49 P.M. Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine safe, effective on adolescents in trial

Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE said on Wednesday their COVID-19 vaccine was safe and effective and produced robust antibody responses in 12 to 15-year olds, paving the way for them to seek U.S. emergency use authorization in weeks.

>> Click here to read more about Israel's efforts to vaccinate teens

Pfizer's vaccine is already authorized for use in people starting at age 16. The new study offers the first evidence of how the vaccine will also work in school-age adolescents.

In the trial of 2,260 adolescents aged 12 to 15, there were 18 cases of COVID-19 in the group that got a placebo shot and none in the group that got the vaccine, resulting in 100 percent efficacy in preventing COVID-19, the companies said in a statement.

The vaccine was well tolerated, with side effects in line with those seen among those aged 16 to 25 in the adult trial. It did not list the side effects for the younger group, but the adult trial's side effects generally were mild to moderate and included injection-site pain, headaches, fever and fatigue.

The companies also studied a subset of teens to measure the level of virus-neutralizing antibodies a month after the second dose and found it was comparable to study participants aged 16 to 25 in the pivotal trial in adults.

After Israel's successful vaccine drive in adults, it faces its next big challenge in vaccinating 600,000 young people.

The experts are in agreement that vaccinating this younger cohort will require targeted preparation and a public information effort. First of all, that’s because Israel, which has led the world in vaccinating its population against the coronavirus, will be the first country to begin vaccinating those under 16 at a time when most of the rest of the world is still focusing on older people. That is expected to prompt some concern among parents. (Reuters and Ido Efrati)

8:36 A.M. Deal to purchase 36 million vaccines is an 'insurance policy,' Health Ministry Director Levy says

The Israeli government's plan to purchase 36 million COVID vaccine doses should provide the state with an "insurance policy," Health Ministry Director Chezy Levy said Wednesday in an interview with Kan Bet public radio. 

Levy explained that the new deal aims to help Israel reach herd immunity and protect against future variants of the virus. The Health Ministry is looking forward "to 2022 and 2023 as well," Levy said.

In regard to the Israeli strain, Levi has stressed that it has "no clinical of epidemiological significance." The new strain was detected in July and has not been proven to cause severe symptoms, according to the ministry. (Haaretz)

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