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Health Ministry panel unanimously backs COVID vaccines for children over 6 months

Recommendation now moves to ministry director for final decision; majority of panel members suggest recommending shot for high-risk children while allowing access for all

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Ellen Fraint holds her daughter, seven-month-old Jojo, as she receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Montefiore Medical Group in New York City on June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
Ellen Fraint holds her daughter, seven-month-old Jojo, as she receives the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Montefiore Medical Group in New York City on June 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

The Health Ministry’s advisory panel on infectious diseases voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend approving the COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of six months and five years.

The decision will now move to Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash for final approval before the shots can be rolled out to that age group.

The Health Ministry noted, however, that members of the panel differed on whether the shot should be recommended or simply allowed in young children, and whether to vaccinate those who have recovered from COVID in the past.

In an effort at full transparency on the sensitive topic, the ministry provided the breakdown of recommendations by the panel members.

According to the ministry, 58 percent voted to recommend vaccines for high-risk children and to allow them for children without risk factors, while 13% voted to recommend vaccinating all children, 13% voted simply to allow the vaccine for all those over six months, and 16% suggested restricting the vaccine to just high-risk young children.

Separately, 87% of those on the panel said there should be no difference in recommendations for those who have previously tested positive for COVID, while 13% said children who already contracted the virus should not be vaccinated.

A young girl receives a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Jerusalem on December 30, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Earlier this month, US health authorities cleared the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for children aged five and younger, and shots began rolling out there nationwide.

The dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children — the shot widely used in Israel — is one-tenth of the adult dose, and three shots are needed. The first two are given three weeks apart, and the third at least two months later.

Interest in COVID vaccines for babies and toddlers is expected to be fairly low in Israel. As of Thursday, less than 18% of children ages 5-11 had received both doses of the COVID vaccine, while 25% had received at least one. Among Israelis ages 12-15, however, close to 55% had received two doses, and almost 15% had received a third dose of the shot.

Israel approved vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds in November. Earlier this month, it recommended children in that age group receive a booster dose of the vaccine, but so far just 0.1% of those eligible have taken up the recommendation.

An Israeli study released on Thursday found that COVID vaccines halved the risk of COVID infection in children ages 5-11 during Israel’s winter wave of the disease. The newly peer-reviewed study, led by Clalit Healthcare Services — one of Israel’s four healthcare providers — compared COVID records of 94,728 Pfizer-vaccinated children and the same number of unvaccinated children. Researchers found that during the two weeks after children’s second dose kicked in, they had 51% protection against becoming infected, and 48% protection against infection with symptoms.

COVID cases in Israel are on the rise once again, with more than 11,000 new cases confirmed on Wednesday — over 30% of all those tested. While Health Ministry officials have recommended a voluntary return to masking in indoor spaces, authorities have shied away from considering bringing back any COVID-era restrictions.

There are currently 296 patients with COVID who are hospitalized in serious condition, up from 219 a week ago and 136 two weeks ago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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