Israel Expected to Approve COVID Vaccines for Very Young Children

After the U.S. approved COVID vaccine for six-month olds and above, Israeli experts will meet to discuss the matter later this week: 'It is almost certain that we will recommend it' a committee member says

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
A COVID vaccination center in Tel Aviv in January.
A COVID vaccination center in Tel Aviv in January.Credit: Hadas Parush
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israeli advisors to the Health Ministry are expected to discuss the of COVID vaccines to children above the age of six months after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control approved it on Saturday.

The approval came after a unanimous recommendation of the CDC’s committee of vaccine advisors, and the White House announced the vaccinations will begin on Tuesday.

Israel’s committee of experts advising the Health Ministry on the coronavirus vaccines is scheduled to meet on the issue of vaccinating young children on Tuesday, but it will not necessarily make a decision on the matter at the meeting.

Prof. Zachi Grossman, the chairman of the Israel Pediatric Association, a member of the committee, told Haaretz that the results of the vaccine trials show the vaccine increases coronavirus antibody levels and is effective in preventing infection – “so it is almost certain that we will recommend vaccinating when the matter comes up.”

The Pfizer vaccine for children aged six months through 5 years old is a tenth of the adult dosage given to those aged 12 and up. It is administered in three shots, with the second dose coming three weeks after the first, and the third dose at least eight weeks after the second shot. The Moderna vaccine for young children is a quarter of the adult dose, and all three doses are given four weeks apart.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the side effects found in the clinical trials.

Dr. Michal Stein, the director of the pediatric infectious disease unit at Sheba Medical Center and a member of the committee of experts, said the results of the clinical trials and the reservations that accompany them must be understood in the proper context.

“It is hard to prove the prevention of severe illness in this group in the study. The fact that the vaccine is effective and safe is known to us, and what they wanted to check is the trial is whether at the dosage given to children it is possible to reach the same level of antibodies that exists in adults. The findings of the antibody levels, even if they are preliminary, show they reached what was expected.”

Stein, who is also the chairwoman of the pediatric infectious disease society, said it is difficult to prove the prevention of serious illness in children in a clinical study in a reasonable amount of time. As for the need for the vaccine, the Americans showed data that support this. But of course, we are waiting for the relevant data, with an emphasis on hospitalizations and complications during the Omicron wave. Approval of the vaccine is not automatic and discussions will be held on the matter,” said Stein.

Israel has about 750,000 children in the six-month to five-year age group. Even if giving the vaccine to children of these ages is approved here, estimates are that less than a quarter of them will be vaccinated. The factors influencing this include the parents’ assessment of the danger based on infection rates and on how harmful the prevalent variants are to children.

An elementary school student vaccinating for COVID at the central Israeli town of Tzur Hadassah, in 2021.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The vaccine for children from 5 to 11 was approved half a year ago, and so far, 24 percent of this age group has been vaccinated. Experience has shown that the lower the age, the less willing parents are to vaccinate their children. In addition, in the six-month old to five-year age group, the children already receive their regular childhood vaccinations – but Stein says there is no reason not to give the coronavirus vaccine at the same time as the other vaccines.

Grossman said the Israel Pediatric Association’s recommendation will not be influenced by demand for the vaccine or willingness to vaccinate. Some families are waiting for the vaccine to be approved, while it seems that others will never vaccinate their children, he said.

“If there is a virus with a safe and effective vaccine against it that meets the criteria – the recommendation is to vaccinate,” said Grossman.

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