With the unanimous vote of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Advisory Panel to recommend authorization of Pfizer’s COVID vaccine for children ages 5-11, the battle lines are being drawn in the Holy Land – the vacci-nation pioneers for these past 10 months.
Israel was ahead of the world in every demographic when it came to vaccination against COVID-19, from its warp-speed campaign to recommending shots for pregnant women and boosters for every age-eligible group, long before even the World Health Organization did so.
With children ages 5 to 11, the Israeli approach has been a little bit more – shall we say – hesitant.
While Israeli leaders are not opposed to rolling out the shots for children, the government has moved forward more cautiously on the matter.
There are approximately 1.27 million children ages 5 to 11 years old in Israel out of a total population of 9.3 million. So far, 6.2 million Israelis have received at least one dose of the vaccine, 5.7 million at least two and 3.9 million have already taken the booster.
According to Ministry of Health statistics, 14 Israelis ages 20 and under have died of COVID or COVID complications since March 2020, six of whom were under 10 years old.
Israel's Channel 12 reported the results of a poll that showed 48% of Israeli parents will vaccinate their children while only 23% will not. That leaves 29% who remain hesitant.
While some parents are concerned that the shot has only been on the market for less than a year and that no studies have been conducted on the potential long-term side effects, others insist that the vaccines are safe and effective and that only negligible short-term side effects have been noted so far by Israel’s Ministry of Health.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has convened a meeting for today on the topic. But top health officials have already expressed their eagerness to begin vaccinating children both in schools and at HMOs.
“We will use all available channels to make the vaccine available to all children so there will be no delay in vaccinations,” Health Ministry Director General Nachman Ash said in an interview with Army radio on Wednesday morning.
“We have to be prepared for another wave,” he said. “The more people who are vaccinated, the less severe the wave of infections will be.”
In anticipation of the FDA panel’s meeting Tuesday, the Israel media has for weeks trotted out polls and news stories of children who have been seriously affected by COVID itself, countering the notion that it is a mostly symptom-free disease for kids. Writing in Ynet news, Sarit Rozenblum reported that dozens of children have been hospitalized recently from post-COVID symptoms, some of which are life threatening.
“Vaccinating young children will likely prevent these complications and allow our children to return to a healthy routine,” she argued.
Israel has exclusively used Pfizer’s mRNA injection which is a new technology in vaccines. And Bennett recently announced the purchase of millions of more doses for children. The children's dose is one-third of the portion given those 12 and older: two doses of 10 micrograms each spaced three weeks apart.
Israeli doctors largely came out in favor of vaccinating the younger population. Yehuda Adler, a cardiology expert, warns that Pediatric Inflammatory Multisystem Syndrome (PIMS) in children is serious and has caused deaths.
“Children are infected by the virus, some suffer mild symptoms, but others are gravely ill and even die. Post COVID is also common in children as well as PIMS and some children needed to be put on ECMO machines and have even died,” he said.
Galia Rahav, head of the infectious disease department at the Sheba Medical Center, has been a leading Israeli voice in favor of the COVID vaccination campaign and says she does not understand parents’ concerns.
“I am not saying there could be no side effects but as far as we know, they are very rare. I am not aware of long-term effects so I cannot understand the concern that parents have. Even the polio vaccine has more risks, but people lined up to receive them,” she said. “Children are suffering from worst symptoms since the spread of the Delta variant of COVID and there were already 150 cases of PIMS, which is a terrible illness.”
One doctor took the opposite view, noting that it is meaningless to say a vaccine can reduce risk of a disease by 90% when, in actuality, few children suffer from it at all.
“On the other hand, you perform a medical procedure on a child for an illness that won’t be severe – and there is no medical procedure without risks – and for young children, the trial was very short term, who knows what it will do in 10 years,” Dr. Zvika Granot said in an exchange on Channel 12. “You do not vaccinate the children to protect Grandpa. If Grandpa is exposed to an illness, protect him. And if the three vaccines that you gave Grandpa still didn’t protect him, then the vaccines are useless.”
Granot also called on the Ministry of Health to be transparent and provide all the data on vaccine injuries and COVID deaths.
“We have to acknowledge that this is not a childhood illness and that the vaccine does not prevent illness, just lessens the symptoms,” he said. “This whole theory of herd immunity cannot be based on a vaccine if a vaccinated person can still get infected and infect others.”
Though myocarditis had cropped up as a possible side effect months ago in Israel, the Ministry of Health has since said it is a rare occurrence and it only noted three cases in young people who took the booster shot.
No cases of the heart inflammation condition – which can be fatal – were recorded among the 3,000 trial participants, Pfizer officials said.
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS