Israel's Key Discussion on Kids' COVID Vaccines to Be Closed to the Public Amid 'Violent Discourse'

Meanwhile, the cabinet's decision to allow tourists into Israel from countries with a lower COVID infection rate sparks criticism among Health Ministry staffers

Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati
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A vaccination center in Kfar Saba last week.
A vaccination center in Kfar Saba last week.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Ido Efrati
Ido Efrati

Israel's Health Ministry announced Monday that a key discussion on vaccinating children against coronavirus will be closed to the public amid a "violent discourse that is liable to affect the discussion."

Instead, the conclusions of the debate on approving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for five to 11-year-olds will be published afterward. The discussion is slated for Wednesday.

The virtual meetings, which commenced last week, were inspired by similar discussions conducted by the U.S.'s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in a bid to improve transparency around the inoculation of young children. 

The FDA authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for emergency use among children aged five to 11 at the back end of October. 

The Health Ministry’s head of public health services, Sharon Alroy-Preis, stated in the last round of discussions that Israel had no intention of forcing parents to vaccinate their children. Alroy-Preis herself was assigned a security detail by the police after she faced threats from anti-vaxxers as an outspoken proponent of vaccinating children.

Already ahead of the launch of the virtual panel, the Health Ministry warned that "slander of the members of the pandemic's management team...or employees of the Health Ministry will not be allowed. Verbal violence of any type will not be allowed during the discussion." Those who violate this rule will be "immediately stopped" during their presentation.

The source added that he "believes that there will be outbreaks among tourist groups and those who came into contact with them, similar to the big outbreak among the foreign workers from China last week."

Tourism plan under fire

Also on Monday, Health Ministry officials criticized the cabinet decision to allow groups of tourists from countries with low and moderate COVID infection rates into Israel, even if they have not been vaccinated with the booster shot.

However, these tourists from "green" and "yellow" countries will only be allowed into the country if they received two doses of a vaccine that has been authorized by the World Health Organization, even if six months has elapsed since their second shot.  

According to sources in the ministry, both health and National Security Council officials opposed the decision to expand the criteria for entry into the country, and the framework was only approved under pressure from the Tourism Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office.

Although one ministry staffer described it as "unreasonable," another said that the decision holds as long as there is no new variant, though "once they do find a variant, the risk will be very high, and it is hard to believe that the government will backtrack from the plan."

According to the plan, which is pending final approval on Tuesday, groups of five to 40 tourists will be permitted to enter the country upon meeting the following requirements: the group will travel as an isolated pod and will be restricted to visiting areas with low risk of infection; during the first week of the tourists' stay in Israel, the  members of the group who have not received the third shot, will be obligated to carry a confirmation of a negative coronavirus test or a PCR test conducted within the prior 72 hours, or a negative antigen test carried out within the prior 24 hours.

Amid Israel's booster shot campaign, the fourth wave of coronavirus has been on the retreat. The Health Ministry reported 162 serious COVID cases on Monday, the lowest figure since the end of July. Of the serious cases, 118 are in critical condition, including 105 who are on ventilators.

The R number – the number of people each COVID carrier infects – rose last week to 0.87, up from 0.73. Despite the rise, Health Ministry data continues to suggest that the pandemic in Israel is receding.

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