Bennett calls meeting on vaccinating kids aged 5-11, as FDA weighs approval

If US regulator okays vaccines for younger children, Israel is widely expected to follow suit with its own approval process; health officials say shots could start within weeks

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recieves his third dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, on August 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett recieves his third dosage of the COVID-19 vaccine at Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, on August 20, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was set to meet Tuesday night with health officials to discuss the potential approval of coronavirus vaccines for children aged 5 to 11, as United States regulators deliberated over giving the shots to American kids, a move they are widely expected to approve.

If the independent experts convened Tuesday by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vote in favor, an emergency authorization could follow within weeks. This would make 28 million younger American children eligible for the shots in November.

Once the FDA approves the move, Israel is widely expected to follow suit after its own approval process. Health Ministry officials said earlier this week that shots for children under the age of 12 in Israel could begin in mid-November.

According to several reports, the Israeli health officials meeting Tuesday night were expected to convene the Health Ministry’s own regulatory body next week to discuss administering the shots to children under 12.

Speaking to 103FM Radio on Sunday, coronavirus czar Salman Zarka said young Israeli children were likely to receive the vaccine a few weeks after their US counterparts.

“I estimate the second half of November is a reasonable deadline after our experts have discussed it,” said Zarka, who is spearheading the national efforts to combat the pandemic.

Coronavirus czar Prof. Salman Zarka attends a press conference about the coronavirus, in Jerusalem, on August 29, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Ahead of the FDA meeting, the agency uploaded an analysis by Pfizer that showed the vaccine — given at 10 micrograms, instead of 30 micrograms as in older groups — was 90.7 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in children under 12, and that there were no serious safety issues.

The FDA also posted its own briefing document containing a risk-benefit analysis, which indicated the agency’s scientists believe the benefits exceed the most worrying potential side-effect for this age group: myocarditis, or heart inflammation.

Now the FDA’s advisers are combing through that data to see if they agree.

Israel’s policy has been to closely follow FDA guidelines on COVID-19 vaccine usage, though it has also broken with US regulators in offering booster shots to the general population before America.

In Israel, full-strength Pfizer shots are already recommended for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem infections from the extra-contagious Delta variant and to help keep kids out of quarantine and in school.

This October 2021 photo provided by Pfizer shows kid-size doses of its COVID-19 vaccine in Puurs, Belgium (Pfizer via AP)

Pfizer on Friday posted results showing the two-dose vaccine was nearly 91% effective at preventing symptomatic infection in young children. Researchers calculated the figure based on 16 COVID-19 cases in youngsters given dummy shots versus three cases among vaccinated children, from a group of 2,268 kids. There were no severe illnesses reported among any of the youngsters, but the vaccinated ones had far milder symptoms than their unvaccinated counterparts.

Most of the study data was collected in the US during August and September, when the Delta variant had become the dominant COVID-19 strain.

Israel appears to be at the tail end of its fourth coronavirus wave, as new infections and serious cases have ticked down over the past few weeks.

The Health Ministry said Tuesday that of the 98,602 tests carried out over the previous day, just 0.88% showed infection. The last time the percentage was that low was on June 29. In total, 866 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 Monday.

The data showed there were 11,088 active patients in the country, of which 236 have serious symptoms, the lowest number since August 4. The number of seriously ill patients is taken as a key indicator of the gravity of virus waves, as those are the patients requiring hospital care, drawing on medical resources.

The virus reproduction number, which indicates how many people each infected person passes the virus on to, has remained below 1 for over month, according to ministry data. A figure of less than 1 shows the virus spread is diminishing, and values above 1 indicate it is growing.

The total death toll in Israel since the start of the pandemic early last year currently stands at 8,063.

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