Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he expects Israel to start vaccinating children later this year, announcing new deals with major drugmakers for millions of coronavirus vaccine doses.
"I’ve agreed with Pfizer and Moderna on 16 million more vaccine doses of the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu said at a press briefing. It isn't clear when these deliveries are expected.
"We are preparing for another vaccination drive in six months, so get your shoulders ready and the children too," Netanyahu added. "We assess that vaccines will be approved for children by then."
On Tuesday, Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced Israel has purchased 9 million additional doses of the Pfizer vaccine that will arrive in 2022.
The additional doses are meant to ensure that Israel will be able to provide booster shots in order to extend protection from the coronavirus through 2022.
In his Tuesday statement, Netanyahu said the latest deals ensure "Israel will again be at the forefront of the global fight against the coronavirus," after Israel's major vaccination drive this year, which let the country almost fully reopen as many other countries are still struggling to inoculate their population.
In his address, Edelstein said that Israel's vaccination campaign is still outstripping that of other countries. "There are countries that are improving now, but there's no basis for comparison for where Israel is and where other countries are," he said.
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But, he added, returning travelers from India have been diagnosed with the Indian strain of the coronavirus, which the Health Ministry first identified in Israel on Friday.
Edelstein said that there is no final decision on how to handle the matter, but that one emerging solution is stricter quarantine. "It's worrying. In the coming days, we'll know which actions to take. If anything is keeping Health Ministry staff up at night, it's the entry of coronavirus variants from abroad," he said.
It is still unclear whether the coronavirus vaccines protect against this new strain. The Health Ministry is emphasizing the importance of observing quarantine protocols for those returning from abroad to Israel, especially from countries where the infection rates are high. All seven of the patients confirmed to be carrying the strain are in home quarantine.
Two weeks ago, drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNtech said they requested U.S. regulatory agencies to expand the emergency use of their COVID-19 vaccine in adolescents aged 12 to 15.
In March, the drugmakers said the vaccine was found to be safe, effective and produced robust antibody responses in 12- to 15-year olds in a clinical trial.
Whether COVID-19 vaccines work and are safe to use on children is one of the big questions drugmakers are trying to answer. Inoculating children and young people is considered a critical step toward reaching “herd immunity” and taming the pandemic, according to experts.