Israel to begin vaccinating 17 and 18-year-olds

Hadassah hospital opens Israel’s first pediatric ICU for COVID-19 patients

Jerusalem sees surge of ‘very sick’ children in recent weeks; 4 of 8 available beds at new unit already filled, including a 10-day-old baby

Illustrative: A nurse stands in the children's ICU for coronavirus patients at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem on January 22, 2020. (Courtesy/Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem)
Illustrative: A nurse stands in the children's ICU for coronavirus patients at Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem on January 22, 2020. (Courtesy/Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem)

Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem has opened the country’s first pediatric intensive care unit specifically designed for coronavirus patients after thousands of children have been diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past several weeks.

The unit has eight beds, four of which are already filled with sick children — the oldest being two-years-old and the young just ten days old, Ynet reported Friday.

The news comes as health providers said they would start vaccinating 17 and 18-year-olds too. Vaccines have still not been approved for children 16 and under.

One of the three children currently hospitalized is a nine-month-old baby who had no pre-existing condition and had been healthy before the diagnosis, the report said, adding that three of the four young patients are in serious condition.

Hospital team members work in the coronavirus ward of Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on January 19, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A recent uptick in cases involving children led to the decision to open up an ICU designed for young patients who require special supervision, Ynet said. It is located on the same floor as the general pediatric ICU, but is completely isolated and protected by double doors.

“In recent days we began to see an increase in the number of children who are very sick with the virus,” Hadassah’s pediatric ICU director Dr. Uri Pollak told Ynet. “It is still not yet clear to us whether this is a change in the nature of the virus or a phenomenon derived from the fact that there are so many patients in the Jerusalem area.

Discussing the ward’s four current patients, Pollak said: “These are babies whose parents or some of their family members are also ill.”

Their parents are torn between caring for the other children at home, and staying by their sick baby’s bedside. “These babies need a hug, human contact, and when there is no parent next to them, it is very difficult to think about how they’re coping,” said Sonia Sharabi, a nurse in the ward.

“I just finished a video call with the family of a one-and-a-half-month-old baby, with his six siblings watching him from a distance… It breaks my heart,” she added.

Recent weeks have seen greater incidents of children being infected, something attributed to the British mutation. Children appear to be more susceptible to catching and spreading the mutated virus than they were to the original strain, according to British researchers.

“We know that SARS-CoV-2, as it emerged as a virus, was not as efficient in infecting children as it was adults,” said Imperial College virologist Prof. Wendy Barclay last month, suggesting that the new variant may “put children on a more level playing field.”

Health Ministry data shows that one in three confirmed cases in recent weeks are below the age of 20 and one in eight are below the age of ten.

According to Education Ministry, there were 23,549 students who tested positive — 4,000 of whom are in preschool, 11,680 in elementary school and nearly 8,000 in high school.

Also Friday, the Clalit HMO announced Friday that it will begin vaccinating its 17 and 18-year-old members beginning tomorrow afternoon.

A woman takes a selfie as she receives a coronavirus vaccine at a Clalit vaccination center in Jerusalem on January 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

All 17 and 18-year-old members will be allowed to arrive at its clinics without an appointment, so long as their accompanied by a parent and present their ID card, Clalit said. From Sunday on, members will be able to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated.

The decision to open the vaccination up to them comes in a bid to safeguard their end of high school exams.

The Health Ministry also announced that it had broken a record in daily vaccinations on Thursday, with 244,000 Israelis getting inoculated.

The Health Ministry also reported a further decline in daily coronavirus infections, as Israel’s worst outbreak since the pandemic began appeared to ease after weeks of strict lockdown rules.

According to the ministry, 7,099 new cases were confirmed Thursday, after peaking at over 10,100 earlier in the week. Along with another 1,228 cases since midnight, the total number of infections recorded in Israel reached 585,746.

The drop in daily cases came as testing levels also further decreased, though the positive test rate fell to 8.9 percent.

The death toll stood at 4,245, with 27 fatalities recorded Thursday.

The ministry said there were 82,029 active cases, with 1,845 patients hospitalized for COVID-19. Of those, 1,128 were in serious condition, with 310 on ventilators.

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