COVID Cases in Israeli Schools Drop Dramatically

The number of school children infected by COVID fell by over 50 percent as the Health Ministry gets set to hold a televised hearing on vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 on Thursday

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Haaretz
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First grade students on their first day of school in Jerusalem, in September.
First grade students on their first day of school in Jerusalem, in September.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
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Haaretz

The number of schoolchildren with coronavirus fell by over 50 percent over the past two weeks, with the decline among teaching staff being even more significant, Health Ministry data shows.  

Kids who tested positive for coronavirus fell by 54 percent over the past two weeks, to 4,743 Sunday from 10,236 on October 18. The decline was even more dramatic among school employees, with only 218 were reported ill with the coronavirus on Sunday, compared to 583 two weeks ago.

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Hospitals are currently treating 223 COVID-19 patients in severe condition, of whom 133 are on ventilators. A total of 8,085 people in Israel are known to have died from the coronavirus. A third coronavirus vaccine has been administered to 3.943 million people in Israel.

A joint study by Israel’s Clalit Research Institute and Harvard University, published Saturday, found that compared with individuals who received only two doses of the vaccine five months prior, individuals who received three doses had 93 percent lower risk of COVID-19 hospitalization, 92 percent lower risk of severe COVID-19 disease and 81 percent lower risk of COVID-19-related death.

The study, published in The Lancet, reviewed data from 728,321 Clalit Health Services members who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine five months or more prior and 728,321 who received a third dose.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued emergency approval for a reduced-dosage Pfizer vaccine for children aged 5-11. They are to receive two doses, two weeks apart. Each dose contains one-third of the amount of vaccine that is given to adults. Dr. Peter Marks, the FDA’s top vaccine official, said that approval for children up to 5 may be given within a few months.

The first debate in Israel regarding the vaccination of children aged 5-11, to be run by the Health Ministry, is scheduled for Thursday, and it will be broadcast live. The audience will be able to pose questions to the expert panel as well. Speakers will be chosen at random, but will represent different concerns – such as the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness – as well as varied positions on the subject, including vaccine hesitancy. People wanting to join the debate have until Tuesday to apply.

No decision on the matter will be made at this discussion, but rather at a separate discussion that will likely not be broadcast.

Meanwhile, a study by the American Centers for Disease Control published on Friday shows that people who have received two doses of the vaccine are better protected against COVID-19 compared to people who have already contracted the virus. This study contradicts data from Israel, which found that those recovering from COVID-19 are highly protected from the virus and are therefore not required to be vaccinated within six months of recovery. In addition, data from Israel from early in the pandemic showed that repeat infection is relatively rare.

According to the CDC study, recovering COVID-19 patients are at five times the risk to contract COVID-19, compared to those who have had two doses of Pfizer or Moderna. “We now have new evidence for the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines, even for those previously infected,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.

The question of how protected recovered patients are from reinfection has yet to be answered clearly. The Health Ministry first recommended that recovered patients receive one vaccine dose. As of October 1, if more than six months had passed since their infection, it is a condition for receiving the Green Passport. A study by the Gertner Institute for Health Policy and Epidemiology – which is assisting the Health Ministry – showed last month that recovered patients who got one dose of the vaccine are similarly protected as those with three doses.

Although the new study’s findings contradict earlier results from Israel, the researchers offered a slew of qualifications for their findings, and acknowledging the differing results from Israel, conceded that different studies in the field have yielded contradictory results.

Previous studies have showed that two doses of the vaccine produce more antibodies than prior infection alone, but that prior infection may produce better protection against different variants of the virus.

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