Mobile vaccination units to be at some Hanukkah events

Health Ministry COVID-19 experts advise vaccine booster for teens 12-15

Officials also decide on 3-week wait between first two shots for children 5-11 when campaign kicks off this week; over half of recent infections said to be among young children

A COVID-19 vaccine being given at health center on the Golan Heights, November 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
A COVID-19 vaccine being given at health center on the Golan Heights, November 16, 2021. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Children aged 12-15 should be given a third booster vaccine shot against the coronavirus, a panel of experts advising the Health Ministry on COVID-19 inoculation policy reportedly recommended on Sunday.

A clear majority among the panel’s members were said to back the idea at a meeting, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

The boosters will be given five months after the second vaccine shot.

The experts’ opinion was based on information about the reduction of vaccine effectiveness among teens aged 16-19 who received just the first two shots, according to reports. Booster shots are already recommended for all those aged 16 and above, a then-trailblazing policy that Israel was the first country in the world to adopt.

No decision was made whether teens aged 12-15 will be required to have the third booster in order to maintain their Green Pass, a vaccination certificate that grants access to public venues, Channel 12 News reported. Currently, all Israelis over the age of 16 must eventually get all three shots in order to maintain a valid Green Pass.

In addition, experts recommended that there should be a three-week wait between the first and second shots given to children aged 5-11, as recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The measures all still require formal approval by the Health Ministry.

A vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 12 years old sits ready for use at a vaccination site in Fort Worth, Texas, on November 11, 2021. (LM Otero/AP)

On Sunday evening, ministers decided that there would be no further restrictions on events during the upcoming Hanukkah festival, although they will take place under Green Pass regulations. The consumption of food and drink will be discouraged during performances to facilitate mask wearing.

Additionally, mobile vaccination units will be operated at some performances, as part of the inoculation campaign for children, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.

The developments came as Israel was preparing to launch a vaccine drive for children aged 5-11 on Tuesday.

With the arrival over the weekend of around one million child-strength doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the country’s HMOs have begun booking appointments.

Over 10,000 parents booked slots with Israel’s four health providers over a period of just two hours in the evening, Channel 12 News reported.

There are some 1,000,000 children in the target age group.

The Meuhedet HMO announced that it will set up a mobile vaccination center in Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square where parents will be able to bring their children to get the shots as soon as Monday, and without an appointment.

Figures show that nearly half of the new COVID-19 infections detected over the past week were found in children under the age of 12, according to Channel 12.

Of the 3,180 new cases, 48 percent were children in that age group, the station reported.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned that Israel was on the verge of a wave of infections among children.

However, Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, speaking to Channel 12, reassured the audience that the country was not entering a broad fifth wave of COVID-19 cases, despite concerns that the virus reproduction number has in recent days crept up to 1.02.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz speaks during a press conference near Tel Aviv, on November 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Known as the “R-number,” the figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over 1 signifies infection is expanding.

“I don’t see this as the start of a fifth wave,” Horowitz told the station, while reiterating the importance of vaccination, noting that the virus can cause serious illness in some children, as well as potential long-term side effects.

Officials are concerned that there will be significant hesitancy among many parents to get the shots for their children. The government has vowed to be open and transparent with all information about the children’s vaccines in order to reassure parents.

Speaking Sunday morning to the Kan public broadcaster, Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public services at the Health Ministry, estimated that “around half” of parents would currently not want their children to be vaccinated.

“It makes sense that part of the population is undecided and wants more data,” she said.

The first shipment of child-sized Pfizer COVID vaccines arrives at Ben Gurion Airport, November 20, 2021 (Screen grab/Kan)

On Saturday, a shipment of around one million vaccine doses was dispatched from Leipzig in Germany and landed at Ben Gurion Airport. It was then taken to Israel’s central distribution point in the city of Modiin. From there, the doses are to be sent to vaccination centers across the country, with vaccinations set to be administered starting Tuesday.

The children’s Pfizer-BioNTech shots, each just one-third the size of the adult doses, are packaged differently from adult doses to prevent mix-ups.

Israeli approval of the shot for children came days after the United States Food and Drug Administration granted the vaccine authorization for the 5-11 age group.

So far, more than 2.6 million children in the United States have been given the shots, meaning that around 10% of children there have now received their first dose.

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