Despite the broad reopening of the economy amid the declining spread of the coronavirus, a top health official said Thursday that the face mask requirement will remain in place for the time being, even for those who are fully vaccinated.
Health Ministry Director-General Chezy Levy told reporters there is no plan to cancel the mask requirement in public, as “even vaccinated individuals can be a source of coronavirus that will pass to those around him if they are maskless or unvaccinated, and certainly our children up to 16 who are not vaccinated.”
Face masks reduce the risk of spreading large COVID-laden droplets when speaking or coughing by up to 99.9 percent, experts in applied fluid dynamics at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering told AFP in December.
Levy also estimated that Israel will begin vaccinating children 12 and up against the coronavirus “around May-June,” adding that the decision will depend on clinical trials being conducted by vaccine-makers, which he hopes “will be over around the end of spring, or beginning of summer.”
A report last Friday said the Health Ministry assumes the vaccine is just as efficient among children and will not wait to see the full clinical results. Instead, the report said, it intends to begin discussions on vaccinating children and teenagers as soon as Pfizer releases preliminary data on the safety of the vaccine for those aged 12-15.
Some 700 Israelis under the age of 16 have already been vaccinated under special circumstances without significant side effects, Health Ministry officials said this week.
The children approved by medical authorities for vaccination had known risk factors including obesity, diabetes, severe lung and heart disease, immunosuppression disorders, and cancer, the Ynet news site reported.
A recent poll showed that the issue of vaccine hesitancy and skepticism could become more acute in Israel with the question of vaccinating children.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has emergency approval for use in people 16 and older, but a clinical trial for children 12 to 15 has started. It’s expected the drugmaker could seek emergency authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration for that age group in the first half of this year.
Moderna has also started trials for children 12 and up, but says it is unlikely to have data on younger children until 2022.
The University of Oxford has announced a trial to test its AstraZeneca-produced COVID-19 vaccine on children as young as 6.
According to Health Ministry data released Thursday, 5,072,725 Israelis — some 54% of the total population — have received the first vaccine dose, of whom 3,999,353 (43%) have also received the second.
Currently, several million Israelis are ineligible for the vaccine, most of them under the age of 16.