Expert Warns Third of Israelis Vulnerable as Children's COVID Vaccine Drive Begins

Israel begins to vaccinate younger children as figures signal an end to the country's downward trend in new coronavirus cases and alarming experts

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A woman dressed as Wonder Woman hugs her daughter dressed as Snow White while she receives her first dose of COVID-19 vaccine
A woman dressed as Wonder Woman hugs her daughter dressed as Snow White while she receives her first dose of COVID-19 vaccineCredit: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz kicked off on Tuesday a nationwide coronavirus vaccination campaign for younger children at a health clinic in Tel Aviv, only a day after Israel's top expert, Prof. Ran Balicer, warned that a third of Israelis are still unvaccinated.

In an interview published on the Hebrew news site Ynet on Monday, Balicer, head of an expert panel advising Israel's Health Ministry on COVID-19, said that “more than a third of the population is vulnerable,” referencing unvaccinated children and people who have not received their booster shots. 

Israel's rising rate of infection – also known as the R number, or the average number of people each coronavirus carrier infects – reached 1.8 on Tuesday, signalling an end to Israel's downward trend in new cases and alarming experts.

In an interview with public broadcaster Kan, Prof. Balicer warned that Israel has a "precious and limited" time period in which authorities can strengthen the health system and allocate necessary resources before another virus surge.

Many health experts have pointed to a rising tide of cases among young children in particular, which have accounted for nearly half of all new cases in recent weeks

“The vaccine is safe, effective, [and] protects children from the coronavirus and its complications which is most important, and also prevents adult infection and general infection,” Horowitz declared in a tweet showcasing photos of children being inoculated.

In an interview with public broadcaster Kan on Monday, Horowitz stated that he expected that Israel would vaccinate “a significant percentage of Israeli children” within a matter of months and that parents shouldn’t worry about the vaccine’s safety as “millions of children” had already been vaccinated worldwide.

An opinion poll conducted at the beginning of October by Liora Shmueli of Bar-Ilan University, found that among 894 parents of Israeli children aged 5 to 11, 57 percent expressed willingness to vaccinate their kids against the coronavirus this coming winter if the vaccine is approved and available.

The drive to inoculate Israeli children began nine days after the Health Ministry approved pediatric vaccines for children aged five-11 and about two-and-a-half weeks after the U.S. began its own childhood immunization campaign. On Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel stands “at the brink of what seems to be a wave of coronavirus infections among children.”

In the first 24 hours after the countrys four health care providers began scheduling appointments for children, Sunday evening, about 25,000 slots were filled. That represents 2.5 percent of the 1 million children in this age group who are eligible to receive the vaccine now (in addition to about 224,000 children who have recovered from a coronavirus infection).

Some 224,000 children in Israel ages five to 11 have tested positive for the coronavirus between March 2020, when the pandemic began in the country, and October 2021, according to the Health Ministry says. As COVID-19 has increasingly become a pandemic of the unvaccinated with the success of Israel’s booster shot campaign, children have accounted for a growing share of new infections.

In August, 40,473 children in this age group tested positive for the virus. Of them, 32,000 had no COVID-19 symptoms. Coronavirus infections among this age group peaked in September, when the new school year began and many Israeli Jews were in close quarters at home or in synagogues for the High Holy Days. In September, about 100,000 children aged 0-15 tested positive for the coronavirus, including 59,000 aged five-11.

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