The approximately 1 million Israelis who have received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine but have declined to get a booster shot “feel protected but they are not,” Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel’s top public health expert, warned during an exclusive Zoom briefing for Haaretz readers on Wednesday.
Speaking with Haaretz’s Amir Tibon, Alroy-Preis said that unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals, including children, are currently the primary vector for the spread of the virus. Three months into the country’s booster campaign, they account for some 90 percent of new cases while there is no sign of waning immunity among recipients of the third shot.
“It’s not the booster waning, it’s the fact we still have unimmunized individuals,” she said. The public health expert explained that three-quarters of newly infected individuals have not been inoculated at all, while a further 15 percent are more than six months past their second dose and have yet to get a booster.
“They feel that they’re covered, but with waning immunity that is not the case. Their protection is wearing off,” Alroy-Preis warned.
Last month, Israel became the first country in the world to no longer provide its vaccination certificate, known locally as the Green Pass, to citizens who had received their second vaccine shot more than six months earlier. According to Alroy-Preis, preliminary testing has indicated that the antibodies produced by the booster shot are “stronger and better in quality” than those developed after the first two shots, making her “hopeful that we will have higher protection for a longer period of time.” However, she can’t make a definitive statement yet.
While Israel this week began its national campaign to vaccinate children aged 5-11, most of the country’s 1.2 million children under the age of 12 are still unvaccinated and could contribute to the virus’ spread, said Alroy-Preis. She added that two of her children had been vaccinated prior to the Zoom briefing.
She stressed that child vaccinations are first and foremost in order to protect the children themselves, noting that although COVID-19 is more dangerous to adults, it can also cause health complications and long-term symptoms in the young.
Vaccinating children is “not important for Israel – it’s important for the kids. We’re not vaccinating the kids to control the pandemic,” she stressed, complaining that “there is a lot of fake news that COVID-19 is not a childhood disease.”
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While children who contract the virus are much less likely to experience severe illness or hospitalization than adults during the disease’s acute phase, they are still at risk of contracting Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome (PIMS) or developing health problems down the line.
Around 2 percent of younger children have experienced continuing symptoms, aka long COVID, while the incidence rises to 4.6 percent among those over age 12, she said.
But even if long COVID only affects 1 percent of Israeli children, it could mean that thousands are at risk of long-term health issues, she warned.
“What’s scary for me is what will happen 10 years from now,” she said, noting that some viruses can cause severe illness even after years of asymptomatic infection. “We don’t know enough about COVID to say this is nothing.
“There is a very big question mark about what will happen 10 or 20 years from now,” she said.