Israel's Health Ministry Approves COVID Vaccine for Younger Children

Ido Efrati
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A child being vaccinated in Kfar Sava last week.
A child being vaccinated in Kfar Sava last week.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv
Ido Efrati

The Health Ministry on Sunday approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11, two weeks after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave its own approval, with hundreds of thousands of Americans in that age group already receiving a dose. 

Last week the ministry’s coronavirus vaccine committee and the team in charge of epidemics approved the shot for children 5 to 11. The Health Ministry's Director-general Prof. Nachman Ash approved the team's decision Sunday. The doses are expected to arrive in Israel in the coming days, with the inoculation campaign starting next week.

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The FDA has approved the shot for 5- to-11-year-olds at 10-micrograms, the dose to be applied in Israel as well. The shot for people 12 and older is at 30 micrograms.

Prof. Ash said on Sunday that a majority of the team in charge of epidemics members thought the vaccine was safe and "the benefits of the vaccine significantly outweigh the risks," with 73 voting in favor and only two against vaccinating this age group. 

In the Knesset on Sunday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called on parents to have their children vaccinated, noting that his youngest son would be getting the shot.

"This of course is every parent's choice, but I urge parents to take care of their children and vaccinate them," Bennett said.

He urged Israelis not to become complacent, noting that many European countries are returning to restrictions and lockdowns. "It's impossible to know what may be awaiting us around the corner," he said.

In mid-September Israel's seven-day average of daily new cases topped 9,000, a number now below 500.

While some experts do not believe small children should receive the vaccine, 73 of the committee's 75 members voted to have younger children inoculated.

The experts also recommended vaccinating children who have recovered from the virus, with 57 backing the move and eight against. Of those in favor, 34 recommended vaccinating children after a certain period since their recovery, while 23 supported vaccination immediately.

The panel voted behind closed doors so that the committee members could speak freely amid the aggressive anti-vaccine rhetoric of a minority of Israelis.

Deliberations by the panel last week were broadcast live. Threats have increased against Health Ministry officials, with at least one senior official being assigned a security detail, the police say.

Pfizer and Germany-based BioNTech have said their vaccine showed 90.7 percent efficacy against the coronavirus in a clinical trial of children 5 to 11.

Israel's 9.4 million population is relatively young, with around 1.2 million children 5 to 11, and health officials have doubted whether the country can reach herd immunity without children being vaccinated.

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