Children’s serology tests to be nixed after they’re approved for COVID shots

Member of Health Ministry panel dealing with coronavirus outbreak tells TV that move, which will remove one method of getting Green Pass, aimed at encouraging vaccinations

A child receives a coronavirus test at a health clinic in Katzrin, September 6, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
A child receives a coronavirus test at a health clinic in Katzrin, September 6, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is likely to recommend canceling serology tests for children once the country begins vaccinating those aged 5 – 11, Channel 12 News reported Sunday.

Citing a senior official on the ministry panel tasked with forming policy for handling the coronavirus outbreak, the report said the move would be aimed at boosting vaccination rates.

Serology tests are used to detect COVID-19 antibodies, indicating past infection and then recovery from the coronavirus. Children who have antibodies are entitled to get the so-called Green Pass, a permit granting entry to public venues only for those who are vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.

The official said serology tests for children, which are offered at Israeli hospitals, will be stopped as soon as vaccination is available for under 12-year-olds, ending the tests as a means to obtaining a Green Pass. The move would be aimed at encouraging parents to have their children vaccinated.

Children who have already obtained a Green Pass by taking a serology test would be able to keep the permit, but no new passes would be issued using the method, the report said.

Israel currently only offers vaccinations to those over the age of 12. Children who have not got antibodies can still get a temporary Green Pass by taking a virus test which grants them the permit for a few days.

Obtaining a Green Pass from a serology test that finds antibodies relieves children from having to repeatedly take virus tests ahead of family outings to venues that require a Green Pass for entry, such as restaurants and attractions.

Earlier Sunday, health officials said Israel could green-light coronavirus vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 starting mid-November, following the expected approval of the shots by US regulators.

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

Illustrative — A healthcare worker injects a boy with a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, during a vaccination drive for children between the ages of 12-17, in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, Oct. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Isabel Mateos)

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

On Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration said that kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear to be highly effective at preventing symptomatic infections in elementary school children and caused no unexpected safety issues.

The FDA posted its analysis of Pfizer’s data ahead of a public meeting on Tuesday, where a panel of outside experts will debate and vote on whether the shots are ready to be administered to the 5-11 age group.

If the FDA authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make additional recommendations on who should receive them the first week of November. US children could therefore begin vaccinations early next month.

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.

In Israel, full-strength Pfizer shots already are recommended for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many 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.

A syringe is prepared with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Jerusalem, September 1, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The belief that children suffer milder symptoms from COVID-19 infection has seen some Israelis deliberately try to infect their children in order to avoid the need for vaccination. However, health officials have warned against the dangers posed by long COVID symptoms in which some recovered patients — even children — continue to suffer related ailments long after having recovered from the disease.

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 on Sunday that just 330 new coronavirus cases were confirmed the previous day, with a positive testing rate of 0.98%, the first time the number has dipped below 1 since June. Testing rates tend to be lower on weekends.

There were 11,888 active cases, including 414 patients hospitalized. Of them, 284 were in serious condition, with 149 of them on respirators.

Israel’s total COVID death toll since the start of the pandemic reached 8,046 as three more people died during the day.

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