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Anti-vaxxer addresses Knesset video conference — apparently invited by mistake

Activist speaks out against top health official at committee discussion on giving COVID-19 vaccine shots to children aged 5-11

Screen capture from video of anti-vaccine activist Valentina Nalin as she participated in a Knesset Health Commitee meeting on COVID-19 vaccines, November 16, 2021. (Israel Hayom)
Screen capture from video of anti-vaccine activist Valentina Nalin as she participated in a Knesset Health Commitee meeting on COVID-19 vaccines, November 16, 2021. (Israel Hayom)

An anti-vaccine activist claimed to lawmakers on a Knesset committee Tuesday that a top Health Ministry official cannot be trusted to give an objective opinion on vaccinations for children, falsely asserting that the official works for the company that produces the shots.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health at the Health Ministry,  has become the focus of anti-vaccination activism, receiving threats so severe that she has been provided with a bodyguard and a panic button.

Activist Valentina Nalin, an attorney, was apparently invited to participate in the Knesset Health Committee meeting by mistake.

The panel of lawmakers gathered to discuss the recent approval by the Health Ministry for COVID-19 vaccination of children aged 5-11.

Alroy-Preis had presented figures to the committee on the number of children in Israel who had died or become seriously ill from the coronavirus, or who had suffered continued issues after recovering from COVID-19.

Nalin joined the meeting via video call, saying that Alroy-Preis “is not objective, she is working for Pfizer.”

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, Head of Public Health Services at the Health Ministry, attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Committee chair MK Idit Silman immediately interrupted Nalin and, checking her agenda notes, said she had thought that Nalin was a member of the national parents’ committee. When aides swiftly informed Silman that that was not the case, she asked that Nalin be cut off.

“I will not allow discrediting or baseless accusations against public servants,” Silman said.

Alroy-Preis spoke of the ministry’s intention to calm any fears parents may have of letting their children get the shots. She said officials aim to present all data in the most transparent and open way to the public so that parents can choose what they want for their children.

A hurdle to overcome is “the idea that this disease is not a significant disease among children,” Alroy-Preis said. “That isn’t correct. We have seen data: children get ill, get seriously ill, and suffer from effects afterward.”

She presented figures showing that 206 children below the age of 18 had become critically ill from COVID-19, 42 of whom were aged 5-11. Eleven children died, all of whom had previous medical issues. Four of the fatalities were in the 5-11 age group.

She said that 277 children (or 1 in every 3,000) who became ill with COVID-19 in Israel had exhibited pediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS). Of those, 195 cases were closely studied, 99 of which were in children aged 5-11. Two children died after developing severe multisystem inflammation a number of weeks after they’d recovered from coronavirus infection.

MK Idit Silman, chair of the Knesset Health Committee leads a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on November 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Alroy-Preis rejected the idea that authorities were trying to force people to get vaccinated, noting that any access to public venues granted to those who are vaccinated are also available to the unvaccinated if they provide a negative virus test.

Former Knesset member Moshe Feiglin, who participated in the meeting, said he had seen reports abroad that people had died from the vaccines and said he personally knew two adults who passed away from the shots.

Boaz Lev, the Health Ministry’s ombudsman who chairs its panel of experts on virus policy, responded that he was not aware of the specific reports Feiglin was speaking of and noted that even if there is such a phenomenon, the death rate caused by the disease outweighs that of fatalities caused by vaccination.

Lev told lawmakers that the ministry does not have any scientific basis to assume there will be any long-term side effects for children given the vaccine.

“Most of the incidents [of side effects] are light, and pass” and do not justify withholding the recommendation to approve the vaccines, Lev said.

On Sunday, Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash approved giving COVID-19 vaccines to kids ages 5-11, adopting the recommendation made by a government panel of medical experts last week.

Child-size doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccines are scheduled to arrive this week and the first shots will be available at health maintenance organization clinics from Sunday, according to Hebrew media reports.

The Israeli approval came days after the US Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccine authorization for the 5-11 age group, paving the way for the US to begin immunizing younger kids.

So far, over a million children in the US have been given the shots.

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