Teen vaccination rate falls short of government target

For 2nd day in row new virus cases top 500, number of seriously ill slowly rises

Health Ministry reports 521 people newly diagnosed; 40 in serious condition; rift between health officials, ministers on how to assess outbreak’s severity

Travelers arriving at  Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel enter the COVID-19 testing area, July 1, 2021 (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)
Travelers arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel enter the COVID-19 testing area, July 1, 2021 (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

The daily caseload from a resurgence of the coronavirus continued to rise with 521 new coronavirus cases diagnosed on Tuesday for the second day in the row, with those two days being the only days that the figure was above 500 in recent months.

Health Ministry figures released Wednesday showed that the number of serious cases had risen to 40, up by two from the day before, which was already the highest number since May.

There are 3,274 active virus cases in the country, the Health Ministry data showed, while the death toll remained steady at 6,429.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet, a narrow forum of ministers tasked with forming virus policy, convened to discuss reintroducing some restrictions in order to curb the recent surge in cases after a meeting the night before ended without any decisions.

There is apparently a rift developing between the Health Ministry and cabinet members on how to handle the developing situation and how best to assess the outbreak.

The Health Ministry is gauging the need for limitations to address the daily caseload, which it predicts will hit 1,000 by next week, while other ministers are said to be focusing more on the number of serious cases and any further deaths as the yardstick.

Israeli youth receive COVID-19 vaccines at a vaccination center of the Tel Aviv municipality and Magen David Adom, in Tel Aviv, July 6, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Information and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen told Army Radio Wednesday that she was “not sure we will accept the criteria of restrictions [imposed] according to the number of confirmed cases.”

Farkash-Hacohen said that the cabinet decided that the situation would be instead be managed according to the number of seriously ill, as well as the death rate.

Orit Farkash-Hacohen in Tel Aviv. April 27, 2021 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

However, Ran Balicer, chairman of Israel’s national expert panel on COVID-19, told the station that “we don’t yet have an established estimate of at what stage and at what cost the contagion will be stopped.”

“Perhaps in another few weeks we will know and be able to decide,” he said.

The Health Ministry made a variety of recommendations at the Tuesday night coronavirus cabinet meeting on introducing some new orders aimed at plugging possible key points of virus spread.

There was reportedly a divide between ministers and health officials over a proposal to require parents — including those vaccinated — to go into quarantine if any of their children are required to isolate following exposure to a known virus carrier.

Ministers oppose the measure, which was pushed by health officials, Channel 12 reported. Recent figures have shown that a significant proportion of vaccinated parents are being infected at home by their virus-carrying children. However, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, along with other ministers, oppose the idea of forcing the parents into quarantine, the station said.

Prime Minister Prime Minister Naftali Bennett right, and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, left, at a youth vaccination center in Holon on June 29 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)

The reports came as the country’s health management organizations were reportedly failing to meet a government goal of vaccinating 50 percent of children aged 12-15 by the end of the month.

By the weekend, teens will no longer be able to make use of the existing supply of vaccines as they expire at the end of the month and there is a three-week gap needed between the first and second shots.

Israel’s vaccination campaign is currently only open to ages 12 and up. Officials okayed the vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds in early June, but authorities only began encouraging vaccinations for the age group at the end of last month in response to rising case numbers.

The Clalit HMO reported that it has vaccinated 63,500 children, representing 20% its members who are in the target age bracket.

Meuhedet HMO has vaccinated 20,600, which along with booked appointments accounted for 32% of its relevant members.

Leumi HMO said that 7,500 youths have been vaccinated at its clinics, 25% of the members targeted.

Only Maccabi reported that it was close to vaccinating 50% of its members in the 12-15 age group, according to the report, which did not give further figures.

An Israeli teenager receives a Covid-19 vaccine injection, at a vaccination center of the Tel Aviv municipality and Magen David Adom, in Tel Aviv, on July 4, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Bennett has said that vaccinations, and in particular vaccinating the country’s children, is a key tactic in halting the recent outbreak while avoiding the reintroduction of restrictions that were imposed over the past year.

The measures that Health Ministry officials are proposing to ministers in the coronavirus cabinet are largely aimed at school-aged children — the country’s largest unvaccinated group, according to Hebrew media reports.

In addition, officials are recommending that events attended by more than 100 children require non-vaccinated participants to conduct a rapid virus test before gaining entry. The measure would also apply to those visiting old-age homes.

Other measures would require all those returning from abroad to remain in quarantine until they get the results of a mandatory virus test conducted at the airport. Currently, only those who have not been vaccinated or recovered must await their results in isolation. In addition, those entering the country would be required to do another virus test four days after they have returned to Israel.

Travelers seen in the arrival hall at the Ben Gurion International Airport, on June 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Health Ministry is also said to be recommending compulsory 14-day quarantine for all those who return from a list of some 20 countries flagged due to their high virus infection rates. The quarantine, which can be shortened to 10 days with two negative tests, would apply to all travelers from those locations, whether or not they have been vaccinated or previously recovered from COVID-19.

The resurgence of the virus has become a major issue for Bennett’s new government, coming less than two months after the numbers of cases had dwindled, allowing Israel to lift most restrictions and reopen public life.

Horowitz said Tuesday that Israel was trying to battle the virus while avoiding “panic” and keeping restrictions to a minimum to enable the continuation of near-normal life.

The resurgence of coronavirus in Israel has been largely attributed to the spread of the Delta variant, which was first detected in India and is believed to be twice as contagious as the original COVID strain.

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